Skip to main content

Our Team
Who We Are

Get to know the faces of the Arts Conservatory. We are all passionate about making a difference in the lives of the youth who step through our doors by providing a well-rounded arts education. 

 

  • Linda Shirley
    CEO, Head of School

    Linda Shirley
    CEO, Head of School

    Linda was fortunate to grow up studying violin, piano, music theory, drama, as well as ballet and other styles of dance. Out of high school, she became a skilled business administrator for the Vancouver School Board and then the Vancouver Principals’ Association. After marrying and starting to raise a young family, she returned to her artistic roots and built a home music studio in Steveston, out of which she taught music. 32 years later, she has grown her business into a full-fledged performing arts school and developed Vancouver’s first fine arts preschool. Linda has been a board member of the Community Arts Council of Richmond for over 20 years and and was Chair of the City of Richmond’s Childcare Development Advisory Committee for 12 years. Today, she publishes and distributes the Kelly Kirby music program throughout Canada and the US and has worked to develop additional materials to further enhance the program.

    AWARDS

    • 3-time recipient of the Ethel Tibbits Woman of the Year Award
    • Richmond Chamber of Commerce Business Entrepreneur Award (2003)
    • City of Richmond’s Arts Education Award (2014)
    • Richmond Chamber of Commerce Business Leadership Award (2019)
  • Lily Cheung
    Director of Operations

    Lily Cheung
    Director of Operations

    Lily oversees the daily operations and ensures our business exemplifies our core values through personal interactions, dedications and commitment to every individual who walks through our school’s doors. A love of music and arts started at a very young age for her. At the age of five, she began piano lessons and later on explored many different avenues of art; painting, sculpturing and architecture design. Lily graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Economics. After graduation, she moved to the world’s financial hub, Hong Kong, but quickly found that life in finance was not giving her sentimental fulfilment in her career. In her 5 years abroad, she started tutoring local students in private and public schools from nursery level to grade 12 and found she needed to move on with a career that blended her desire for teaching young children and her love for music and art. In 2009, she moved back to Vancouver and started her life-long career at The Arts Connection. This role has provided her with a career that matched her background studies in Economics and passion for the arts for young children and youth. As a devoted mother of two boys who have gone through basically every single program here, she has seen first hand the true benefits of creating resilient and determined individuals through a well-rounded fine arts academic program. Lily is honoured to work with a wonderful team of creative thinkers who consistently show the same perseverance and never-ending passion for what they do: to nurture, foster and develop young minds.

  • Adena Ovens
    Accounting Director

    Adena Ovens
    Accounting Director

    Adena’s love for the arts is evident in her piano compositions, her drawings and her paintings. Yes, she is Linda’s daughter and yes she began working in the family business when she was 16 years old. There she gained hands-on experience at our Paddington Station Fine Arts Preschool, taught the Kelly Kirby Piano Method and worked part-time in the accounts department. Her passion for early learning led her to a career in Early Childhood Education where she graduated at the top of her class. After taking over management of our daycare location at No 2 Road, Adena and her family moved to the beautiful town of Vernon where she now works remotely as our accounting director, since her second passion is a love of numbers. She enjoys singing for and with her 4-year-old daughter while opening up the world of early learning and the arts to the next generation of our family.

  • Amélie Nikitin
    Programs Manager

    Amélie Nikitin
    Programs Manager

    Amélie grew up in a household immersed in the arts and culture. She started dancing, painting, and singing in pre-school and has never stopped since. She comes with a formal visual arts education having studied design, photography, illustration, painting, and printmaking techniques, and over 12 years of experience singing in classical and pop choirs. Amélie first pursued her passion for the arts through her BA studies and career as a designer and illustrator in the Netherlands and France. She obtained her Master of Arts in Arts and Culture Management from Erasmus University in Rotterdam (Netherlands). A passionate advocate for the arts, she has since accumulated experience working and volunteering with different arts organizations and has conducted several academic research projects in the arts and culture sector. If you don’t find her behind her sewing machine or discussing the impact of the newest cultural policies, she is most likely learning twists and turns on the salsa dance floor.

  • Cindy Duong
    Office Coordinator

    Cindy Duong
    Office Coordinator

    Prior to joining us in 2019, Cindy had an interest in childcare and was looking for a dynamic company with a passionate culture where she could utilize her administrative background and was grateful to find a position here that ticked all of the checkboxes. Cindy initially studied fashion merchandising, business and office management and has a work background in retail management and administration. Recently, she obtained her Responsible Adult Certification. Her favourite part of the job is seeing all of our amazing students enjoying the programs we offer. When not working, Cindy enjoys visiting her hometown in White Rock or strolling around Steveston. One day, she hopes to become a master in baking pastries and to have an extensive collection of beautiful indoor plants. 

  • Leticia Benevides
    Marketing Coordinator and Graphic Designer

    Leticia Benevides
    Marketing Coordinator and Graphic Designer

    Leticia grew up in a creative environment, with a big family that loves to create their own stuff. An easy-going person who loves nature and a good cup of coffee (as the good Brazilian that she is), she has worked in design and marketing for the past 10 years. She’s always looking for the latest programs and technologies and loves to be updated on everything that’s happening in this field. Leticia works closely with the marketing team to maintain our online presence. She designs assets to support the new brand and content to use and supports all the departments with graphic designs and marketing strategies to help them to grow. Leticia likes to enjoy a beautiful day on the beach, painting to relax, taking photos and discovering new places to explore. 

  • Laisa Schutz
    Marketing Manager

    Laisa Schutz
    Marketing Manager

    Our marketing manager extraordinaire, Laisa is a constant learner and an avid collector of degrees, diplomas and lists (she loves lists). In a past life, she was a lawyer. Now, she manages our marketing department, which involves developing our strategy, creating our new brand, repositioning our company and building our online presence. She’s a fast-paced, quick on her feet kind of person, always on the go, thinking about the next ten moves deeply analytical but also creative. Laisa started dancing a couple years after she started walking, and hasn’t really stopped moving since. But her true love was singing. And that hasn’t stopped. If she’s not singing or reading then she’s probably enjoying summer at the beach or at a lake, or it’s winter and she’s skiing (the latest addition to her free-time activities list—she does love lists).

  • Mehernaz Parakh
    HR Administrator and Clerical Supervisor

    Mehernaz Parakh
    HR Administrator and Clerical Supervisor

    Mehernaz has been with us for over six years now and she enjoys working with an awesome group of strong, empowering women. She leads the administrative team and helps with human resources since the school has grown so much since she first started working here. She and the admin team are the glue that binds the different programs together and they bring structure and organization so that registrations and the implementation of programs run seamlessly. Mehernaz is happiest outdoors and you would find her hiking our beautiful rainforest or Coast mountain trails on any given weekend. Her travels have taken her to some fun places including three active volcanoes (Costa Rica and Hawaii), hiking upstream a colourful canyon (Utah) and the Land of Fire and Ice (magical Iceland). 

  • Helen Massey
    Accounts Assistant

    Helen Massey
    Accounts Assistant

    Originally from England, Helen has been living in the Lower Mainland for the past 12 years with her husband and two boys. She’s been with us for almost 4 years, starting out as the evening receptionist. As well as currently working in the accounting department, she is also responsible for payroll and updating Amilia with all our exciting programs. When she’s not at work, you will find Helen enjoying the many parks our area has to offer or spending time with her family baking and playing board games. 

  • Kara Robinson
    School of Dance Manager

    Kara Robinson
    School of Dance Manager

    Kara Robinson is our wonderful School of Dance Manager and registered Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) ballet Instructor. A dancer since age 4, she has trained in ballet, jazz, tap, musical theatre and lyrical and participated in various dance competitions over those years. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University, a Diploma from National Ballet School’s Teacher Training Program, and she’s a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance. During her time at Canada’s National Ballet School, Kara trained under many noteworthy ballet and music instructors including but not limited to: Glenn Gilmour, Teresa Randall, Anuschka Roes and Craig Wingrove. Each year, Kara continues to learn and grow as a teacher through the RAD’s Continued Professional Development Program. She wants to train dancers to excel at their craft while maintaining safe practicing and understanding how to use their bodies safely and effectively through proper training and development.

    AWARDS

    • Member of the Board of Directors for Fraser Valley Youth Ballet Society, current
    • Danced in 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony
    • Master Class with Karen Kain, 2003
  • Jessica Trestain
    School of Visual Arts Manager

    Jessica Trestain
    School of Visual Arts Manager

    Jessica is an artist as well as an educator, which means she is able to bridge the gap between the technical aspects of art-making and the theoretical components of effective communication and teaching practices. A firm believer that visual arts play a vital role in the development of certain skills such as critical thinking, empathy and social growth, Jessica strives to create a safe space that fosters individual and collaborative creativity. She graduated with a Bachelor of Art Education (University of New South Wales/UBC) and has a Diploma of Fine Arts (TAFE) and a TESOL Diploma (LCC Languages College). 

    AWARDS

    • 2nd place in the Midsummer Arts Dream 2018 Exhibition for Drawing & Painting Category
    • Third Place Finalist in the Waters Art Contest, Grey Cube Gallery 2010
    • Winner of the Hazelhurst Gallery Sydney, Art on Paper Award 2006
    • Winner of the Student Emergence Prize at Kudos Gallery, Paddington NSW, 2005
    • Runner up in the Emerging Artist Award at AD Gallery UNSW Art & Design, 2004
  • Ali Burns
    School of Music Coordinator

    Ali Burns
    School of Music Coordinator

    Ali has been our music coordinator for four years, but her first encounter with the Arts Connection was as a student in our preschool programming. She started her musical journey at age five and over the years has played the piano, saxophone and accordion. As the accordionist for the Russian Centre of Vancouver (RCC) Balalaika Orchestra, she also performs regularly around the Lower Mainland. Ali considers herself a multi-disciplinary artist: a musician and a 2D visual artist in drawing, painting, digital media, and textiles, holding a fine arts diploma from Langara College. In her free time, she can be found creating, volunteering or hanging out with her cats. 

    AWARDS

    • Received the Digital Media Artist Scholarship for her course work at Langara (2018)
    • Designed the poster and cover for the 2018 Langara Grad Show
    • Midsummer Night’s Dream Exhibition Winner

Our Team

  • “The Arts Conservatory leadership embodies the Canadian spirit of inclusivity, empathy and community. Our staff is from all over the world and everyone loves working here because there are mutual respect and camaraderie. Linda has always led by example and I always see her take the time to greet every staff member in the kitchen no matter how busy she is.”

    Mehernaz Parakh, HR Administrator and Clerical Supervisor

  • “Feeling welcome and getting positivity and support from leadership is something that I admire, so that has been a good impact on my first couple of months here.”

    Cindy Duong, Office Coordinator

  • “When you walk through our doors you can tell immediately that we are passionate advocates of the arts. There are few companies more worthy of a Business Excellence and Leadership award than this one. I love it here. And you and your children and grandchildren would too.”

    Jennifer den Hartogh, Applied Arts and Science Instructor