Men perform a ritual on the grounds of U of G
A ritual was held during a ground-turning ceremony for U of G’s MacKinnon Building renovation and its new ImprovLab project.

A new ImprovLab and updates to an existing theatre, student space and main entrance are the focus of a nearly $20-million renovation of the University of Guelph’s MacKinnon Building launched today with an official groundbreaking ceremony.

The renovations will cover 45,000 square feet in the building that is home to the College of Arts.

“To reach this point is a real milestone for us,” said president Franco Vaccarino. “This is an exciting day for the University of Guelph and for the College of Arts. It represents a renewal of the cultural and creative arts right here in the heart of the University.”

Funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the $5-million ImprovLab will be a world-class, practice-based research facility for presentation, broadcast, archiving and analysis of improvised performance, community workshops and audience reception studies.

Samantha Brennan, dean of the College of Arts, said the major project signifies the crucial role the arts play in the U of G community.

Four people turning sod with spades
Sod-turning: from left, Ajay Heble, director, International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation; U of G president Franco Vaccarino; representative of Diamond-Schmitt Architects; and Samantha Brennan, dean of the College of Arts.

“I think it sends a serious message about the importance of the arts for our future, for the future of U of G, Canada and the world,” she said, adding the project has taken many years of planning and initiative to realize.

The multi-use lab will support research by U of G’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, which studies social impacts of improvisatory artistic practices on artists, audiences and communities. The facility will allow researchers to collaborate with each other, the University population and the broader community.

The performance lab will include studio space that can be adapted into smaller spaces for workshops, focus groups, and research collaboration and performances. It will house cutting-edge equipment and interactive performance technologies.

Prof. Ajay Heble is director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation at U of G.

U of G president Franco Vaccarino with microphone
U of G president Franco Vaccarino addressed a large crowd at the groundbreaking.

“The new and much anticipated ImprovLab is going to be a hub for the work we do at the institute,” he said. “It is sure to cultivate collaboration and interdisciplinary research, while fostering the next generation of performances and audiences.”

Other renovations will include construction of a new main entrance, creation of student spaces, reconfiguration of the Luscombe Theatre to a black-box performance space and addition of music practice spaces. Existing spaces will be updated to improve accessibility and acoustics.

“I think what gives the University of Guelph that special buzz is the longstanding history of the University together with the new and emerging,” Vaccarino added. “In many ways, the groundbreaking today is a reminder of our comprehensiveness and the importance we place on the full spectrum of what we do.”

The MacKinnon Building was constructed in 1967. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2021.