Lyn Verra-Lay, one of seven B.C. Culture Days ambassadors, on the steps of Surrey Arts Centre with a photo of the original building, built in 1967 and then known as Centennial Arts Centre. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey’s Culture Days ambassador will celebrate 50th birthday of arts centre — a place she knows very well

‘I’ve been hanging out in that area (of Surrey Arts Centre) since I was 14,’ says Lyn Verra-Lay

SURREY — Lyn Verra-Lay plans to celebrate Surrey Arts Centre’s 50th birthday with a special look back at the city’s most active arts hub.

The Bear Creek Park facility is subject of a winning proposal by Verra-Lay, who on June 6 was announced as one of seven Culture Days ambassadors in B.C.

Verra-Lay, a longtime Surrey resident and supporter of the local arts scene, was awarded $1,000 for the creation of the activity she plans to hold on BC Culture Days, held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

She applied for the project, and won.

“In our application we all had to come up with an activity that we wanted to do, specifically on the weekend of Culture Days in September,” Verra-Lay explained. “We’re not restricted to one, it’s at least one, and I’ve been working there at the arts centre for about 20 years, most of my arts background is in Surrey, and I grew up and went to school in Surrey. I don’t currently live in Surrey – I live in North Delta – but I do go there (to Surrey) every day for work.”

Her project, called “50 Years of Culture: Celebrating the Surrey Arts Centre,” will involve both visual and literary parts.

“Using a pair of enlarged, archival photos of the original building as a base, artists of all ages will be encouraged to collaborate on a mixed media piece by adding recycled materials onto the images,” explains a post on the website. “With the literary segment, patrons will be invited to share their memories of attending art classes, theatre performances, gallery exhibitions, etc., at this city facility, on a journal page. The finished product will be displayed at the Surrey Art Centre’s semi-centennial celebrations in 2017/2018.”

The project will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30 at Central City Shopping Centre.

“I had to work on that (mall name) because I still say Surrey Place, like a lot of people above (age) 35 around here,” Verra-Lay said with a laugh.

“We’ll do activities there and share information about Surrey Arts Centre as well,” she added. “What we have found over the years is that going to places like Guildford (Town Centre) last year and also Central City, that garners us more participation, including people who may not know about the arts centre, or have even been there before.”

Verra-Lay, inspired by her musician dad and craft-savvy mom, has been enjoyed being involved in Surrey’s performing and visual arts community for more than 40 years, as a musician, singer, community theatre production manager, actor, dancer and mixed media and fabric artist.

She also teaches art classes to children and co-ordinates the Surrey Youth Arts Council.

“I’ve been hanging out in that area (of Surrey Arts Centre) since I was 14,” Verra-Lay noted. “I used to go there and scrape clay out of the creek and make things, and now I teach clay classes to kids at the arts centre, so it’s kind of a big full-circle thing for me.”

Her winning Culture Days project began to take shape after she looked at a couple of archival photos of the original arts centre building, opened in 1967.

“I remember it because I used to hang out there, and it was named Centennial Arts Centre, in celebration of Canada’s centennial,” Verra-Lay said. “I got thinking about all the ‘Canada 150’ celebrations that are happening this year, everywhere, and hey, this building is now 50 years old. It’s got its own anniversary to celebrate. It’s a birthday for the building, too.”

The arts centre looks a lot different today, because it’s been renovated a few times – most recently, and most significantly, in 2002. “The building holds a lot of memories for me,” said Verra-Lay, who remembers playing flute and piccolo there in Whalley Legion Junior Band.

“It was sponsored by Legion #229, and (we) recorded a record there, a vinyl record, in 1976, and they had eight microphones on stands interspersed between the band members. That recording has been transferred to CD, and it actually sounds pretty good.”

Those who want to get involved in Verra-Lay’s project, with memories, photographs and related items to share about Surrey Arts Centre, can contact her by email,

The other BC Culture Days ambassadors this year are Roxanne Charles (Semiahmoo First Nations), Rob Brown (Dawson Creek), Jocelyn Pettit (Squamish), David C. Jones (Vancouver), Priscilla Johann Maurice (Victoria) and Bobby Bovenzi (Summerland).

Charles’ project is described on the website: “Join Semiahmoo artist Roxanne Charles on a cultural excursion, where participants will have the opportunity to try canoeing on a beautiful 24-foot clan dancer canoe around Semiahmoo Bay, near White Rock. Participants will also have the opportunity to take part in a community weaving project.”

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