ABOUT Our Story
Our aim? To empower the creative spirit. Our passion? To inspire the joy of learning. Our goal? To embolden our students with wider perspectives. Our heart? To instil a culture of involved citizenship through empathy. This is our story.
Linda’s StoryA life in the arts
For Linda Shirley, the arts have always been a part of her life. She’s been fortunate that way. Her parents valued the importance of an arts education and made many sacrifices to provide her with opportunities for artistic development. She began the journey at the tender age of three, tap dancing at the famous Evelyn Ward studio, then went on to study ballet at the Vincent and Hazel Studios.
At age six, she studied violin but switched to piano when she was 11. After spending her junior years studying with May German, Linda went on to study with Lloyd Powell, a famous Canadian teacher. Throughout high school, she dabbled in theatre and choir, performing in large-scale musical productions. And even when she became an adult, the arts kept finding her and she fell in love with a painter.
THE ARTIST’S WAY Colouring outside the lines
As anybody who’s attempted to earn a living in the arts knows, this is a challenging industry. But it also comes with a unique privilege: it gives us front-row seats to watch the impact the arts have on not only the children who come through our doors, but on their families and on the community at large.
Bearing witness to that impact will always be at the heart of everything we do. Our ability to thrive and survive during changing times has always been about taking what is good and watching it transform into something truly great.
Through the years A journey through the decades
Our school started as a humble home-based business. While we’ve grown immensely over the decades, remaining true to our roots has guided our course: we are still that same family business at heart. Today we are as dedicated to our community and to each family, child and employee who comes through our doors as we were the day we first started.
Linda Shirley moved to Richmond from North Vancouver with her young family and began building a studio in her new home in Steveston.
The studio continued to grow, so Linda invited another piano teacher to join her and built on the momentum!
The studio continued to grow as Linda’s sister, violinist Angela Cavadas, joined the team.
Fifteen years had passed and the home studio had grown to 100 students a week! One day Linda’s piano tuner walked in, saw 60% of her space being used for teaching and said, “You’re like an octopus in a five-gallon aquarium tank….you need to open a school!” The seed was planted!
Linda found a small space in Steveston, facing a back lane, and opened a 1200 sq ft school offering private music instruction, dance, theatre and visual arts. “Marketing” consisted of printing flyers and paying students to distribute them to people’s homes in the neighbourhood!
Linda was getting inquiries from parents of pre-schoolers…they were looking for a program that provided an opportunity for their little ones to explore different types of art programming so they could see where their interests lay….and so “Paddington Station”, the lower mainland’s first truly finearts preschool blossomed. Linda engaged her long time friend, Anne Tait, an Emily Carr graduate, Early Childhood Educator, and Visual Marketer, to assist her in developing the program and curriculum.
The school was very crowded with enrolment hovering at 200, and she needed additional space to bring the preschool idea alive, and suddenly her husband, Michael, came home with the news that Woodward’s Dept Stores, where he had worked for 32 years was closing. With a mortgage, two teenage daughters and debt from opening the school, she proposed that the best thing was to expand the school and he could join her…teaching art and assisting with other administrative tasks.
They leased a heritage building in Steveston and invested his severance in leasehold improvements. The money ran dry and the banks laughed when Linda approached them for money to finish the renovation. She was a woman opening a preschool and performing arts school, her husband had no job and she was asking for money?? So desperate to finish the renovation, Linda approached her widowed mother about mortgaging the family home so she could get the doors open in time.
Three years in and people were camping out in tents overnight to get a space in the preschool on registration day! The only solution was to open another location! So Linda searched out Steveston Industrial Park and took a lease for the top floor of unit 1. Times were changing and more moms were working, so this Paddington Station centre offered flexible daycare for working moms.
The performing arts school at the original Steveston village location was growing and needed more space, so when the downstairs of Unit 1 at Steveston Industrial Park became available, she decided to renovate the space and move the school of music there. The original location was then renovated again to expand the dance studio.
Again, both location of Paddington Station Preschool were full and there was still a huge demand for the program. So the decision was made to move the music studios once again…this time to Minato Village. The downstairs of Unit 1 was again renovated and the 3rd location of Paddington Station became a reality.
In an attempt to put the music, dance and administration back together at one location, additional units were leased at Minato Village. The original main location in Steveston was vacated and Minato Village became the location of the School of Music, the School of Dance and the administration offices. It became clear that the vision of a one-stop centre for all of The Arts Connection’s programs and childcare would never flourish as it should unless ALL of the programs could be pulled together to one location. So a plan was formulated to start leasing additional units at Steveston Industrial Park (where the 2 Paddington Station programs were) and to eventually move all of the fine arts programmings there as well. This plan was pushed along by the news that Minato Village would be going up for redevelopment!
The plan for changing Paddington Station Fine arts Preschool from a play-based program to one with more of an academic program developed along with a new name: Renaissance Kids. Unit 2 was leased and the childcare program was expanded again to now add an infant/program along with the current JK programming.
Renaissance Kids officially opened and discussions began with the landlord about relocating the tenant in units 3/4/5 so that the fine arts programs at Minato Village could join the Renaissance Kids program.
A massive construction project was undertaken to occupy units 3/4/5, adding a full second floor, for a total of 10,000 additional square feet. As with most large construction projects, it ran late and the Renaissance Kids new “Academy” program was already pre-booked and the space wasn’t finished. So a 1000 sq ft portable classroom was erected in the parking lot to accommodate the students until the building was finished. 2 new playgrounds were also added over the period of 2010 – 2012.
The official opening of the new 10,000 sq ft expansion took place which included 3 dance studios, 6 music studios, a parent lounge, administrative offices, a staff lunchroom and 3 additional childcare classrooms. This expansion also saw the addition of our Spark School Age program and the purchase of 2 buses for transporting students from 8 local schools for a special out-of-the-box high quality program for kids after school.
Renaissance Kids, despite massive expansion over just a few years, was still running a waiting list and the dance and music schools were growing. So again, discussions ensued with the landlord to move the tenants in units 6 and 7 so that more space could be added.
Another big expansion project began, adding another 6500 sq ft with additional music and dance studios, Spark school-age classrooms, a library and another playground. An additional building previously used for storage in the centre of the complex was converted to a stand-alone fully functional Art Studio and in the fall the newly expanded space officially opened.
Covid 19 forced us to pivot quickly to online programming and out of this grew our “Renaissance Kids at Home” program. This amazing program of live and recorded classes in academics and the arts provided a much-needed reprieve for families wanting to keep their children safe at home but not wanting their education to suffer because of it. As families began to return, we realized that the pandemic was going to affect our company in the longterm…so we needed to re-evaluate the use of our spaces. With a vision to bring our quality programming front and centre we decided to undertake a re-branding for a fresh new look while still holding firm to our original vision. We are now The Arts Conservatory and the Renaissance Academy of Learning….working hand in hand to provide the best of the best for students of all ages in a state of the art facility.