SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs ends amid budget cuts

SFU and surrounding arts community expressed their dismay

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This is a photo of the outside of the Woodward’s Cultural Programming building downtown Vancouver.
PHOTO: Aria Amirmoini / The Peak

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

SFU’s recent ongoing layoffs have impacted “nearly 100 employees, including instructors, administrative support staff, and custodial workers across all three campuses,” according to Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). Following the layoffs, the Woodward’s Cultural Programs were cut after 15 years of running. The program’s website was taken down on June 19.

Since 2010, the programs had been “involved with over 200 events each year, focusing on contemporary arts, dance, theatre, cinema, and music.” They were once described as “a catalyst for the creation of new work,” where the Woodwards team would commission and facilitate the creation of local workshops, conversations, presentations, screenings, concerts, shows, and more. The program also worked to connect SFU students from the School of Contemporary Arts to local creatives and artists.  

“The opening of the venues and facilities at the SFU downtown campus, specifically the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre and The Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema and World Art Centre offered such great engagement opportunities,” said Jim Smith, in an interview with The Peak. Smith is a co-founder and artistic and executive director for DanceHouse, who used the Woodward’s locations to co-present shows. 

“The university had positioned these venues to bring the School of Contemporary Arts down off Burnaby Mountain to allow for the integration of the program into the local professional arts scene, literally and figuratively,” continued Smith. He noted these venues added important venue capacity in Vancouver, especially as the city’s venue space has been steadily shrinking

Smith told Stir that he found the end of Woodward’s programming “infuriating” and that “it’s hard to see it washed away in a single stroke.” 

“It’s really unfortunate, when you think about the work and investment of Michael [Boucher]’s personal effort, and all the people and resources that SFU put into building the community presence in that campus,” he continued. Boucher was the director of Cultural Programs and Partnerships at SFU Woodward’s. 

Boucher told The Georgia Straight, he was proud of the cultural engagment that came from the progam. “We thank all of our longstanding collaborators who contributed enormously and also hats off to my great team.”

“SFU has a responsibility to its community not only as an educational institution but also as a cultural and economic center in BC.” — Simon Fraser Student Society

Closing Woodward’s Cultural Programs was not the only community space SFU has closed this year. The English Language Culture Program, Interpretation & Translation Program, and the Climbing Wall were also closed this year. 

SFU cited financial hardships for its recent cutbacks, “estimating an annual deficit totalling $20.9 million for the 2023–24 fiscal year, with that number rising to an estimated $49.9 million during the 2024–25 fiscal year.” 

The SFSS stated employee “layoffs are not just numbers on a balance sheet; they represent a significant erosion of the support structures that enhance our learning environment.

SFU has a responsibility to its community not only as an educational institution but also as a cultural and economic center in BC.” However, the statement continued, “Cutting positions and programs [ . . . ] significantly diminishes SFU’s ability to fulfill this role.”

SFU noted in a statement to The Peak, “Many SFU departments, programs, and individuals have strong collaborations with the arts and culture sector.” While the program has ended, the “performance spaces remain available for use by arts organizations.” 

SFU also noted the discontinuation of funding for the program “enables us to refocus and strengthen support with arts organizations in the city through use of our venues and continued partnership with other parts of the organization, such as the Vancity Office of Community Engagement, School for Contemporary Arts, SFU Galleries or individual faculty members and scholars.”

This is an ongoing story The Peak will continue to cover.

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