Vancouver Art Gallery’s relocation – FAQ

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last night, the Vancouver Art Gallery held at the Museum of Vancouver its last-in-a-series of Public Information Sessions about its proposed relocation . I couldn’t participate but asked Greg Johnson, PR of the relocation program, to answer a few questions. Here is what he sent me:

An enthusiastic crowd left standing room only at the Museum of Vancouver. Despite what’s been reported recently by various media outlets, people were very obviously engaged and passionate about the future of the VAG.

Before opening the floor up to questions from the public, Lance Berelowitz, Principal, Urban Forum Associates moderated a panel that included:
• Kathleen Bartels , Director, Vancouver Art Gallery
• Michael Audain , Gallery Trustee and Chair, Relocation Committee
• Andrew Pask , Vancouver Public Space Network
• Landon Mackenzie, Artist and Professor, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Why does the VAG want to relocate?

Kathleen Bartels, Director, Vancouver Art Gallery, put it best in her opening remarks:
The VAG is “bursting at the seams” and the former courthouse is an “aging and outdated” building. The Gallery has gone through 10 years of growth, and with success comes change.

Daily challenges faced by the Gallery:

•Only 3% of the permanent collection is on view at any given time. The vault is full to overflowing. The Gallery has had to resort to costly offsite storage for part of the permanent collection.

•Line-ups and overcrowding during exhibitions. The Vancouver Art Gallery’s permanent exhibition space is 10 times smaller than the average North American museum.

•There’s no dedicated space for educational and school programs. In fact, the VAG’s popular educational programs were booked full during the first week of school. 20,000 school kids will be turned away over the course of the year.

•There’s no theatre, lecture hall or gathering space. That means no room for family and adult programs, artist’s talks, lectures or special events.

Why can’t the VAG just expand its current site?

The Gallery’s first impulse was to look at renovating and expanding the current building. However, that option quickly proved more difficult and costly than building a new Gallery.

Here’s why:
• Higher costs. Expansion on the current site would actually cost more than constructing a new building on a new site.

• Heritage constraints on the current building. The former provincial courthouse is a designated federal National Historic Site and is an “A” listed heritage building, which would greatly limit renovation and expansion options.

• Expansion restrictions above and below the Georgia Plaza. Not everyone knows the VAG is already underground. Much of the Gallery’s archives and collections storage is below the Georgia Plaza and extends as far east as Howe Street.

• Major interruptions. Expanding the current Robson Square location would require closing the Vancouver Art Gallery for a period as long as three years. This would mean job losses for many Gallery staff as well as the costly relocation of the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Has a new location already been chosen?

No, but the Art Gallery has indicated its preference for the site at 150 Dunsmuir , otherwise known at Larwill Park (Georgia and Cambie). The site is owned by the City of Vancouver and currently a parking lot.

More than a dozen sites were carefully reviewed. Each was weighed against set criteria and the only site that was deemed suitable was 150 Dunsmuir.

Michael Audain heads up the VAG’s relocation committee. He had these words at last night’s public info session: “Yes, we considered the Post Office. Yes, the Sears Building, too. Even Deadman’s Island. Land in downtown Vancouver is among the most expensive anywhere in North America, except maybe San Francisco. I could find a site more easily in Manhattan than I could here in Vancouver.”

Artist and Emily Carr professor Langdon Mackenzie said this: “Other cities had to tear down rows and blocks of housing to create their galleries. We just want a parking lot. Our parking lot. A lot we already own.”

What is going to happen to the current site?

The old courthouse building isn’t going anywhere. It’s a cherished, historic building and well protected by heritage legislation.

The former courthouse is owned by the Province of BC and leased to the City of Vancouver. The City of Vancouver in turn leases it to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

That means the Vancouver Art Gallery has no say in who becomes the next tenant.

Some organizations have stepped forward to express an interest in moving into the former courthouse. These include the Museum of Vancouver, the University of British Columbia and the law courts.

How much will a new Gallery cost? Who will pay?

First things first, the Gallery needs to secure a site. Only once that’s done can the cost of a new Gallery be accurately estimated.

But, by looking at similar new galleries recently built across North America, the current estimate is approximately $350 million.

Once the site has been secured, the VAG will launch a fundraising campaign. Currently, even before a site has been chosen, an architect selected or a design drafted, the Gallery has already raised more than $90 million.

$50 million has come from the Province of British Columbia for the building of a new gallery. $42 million has been pledged by private donors.

Does a new, bigger gallery mean more art?

In a word, yes. How, exactly, remains to be seen once designs are put forward.

Among the ideas and possibilities floated by VAG Director Kathleen Bartels and others at the public info sessions:
• Permanent collection on permanent display
• Sculpture garden
• Free public access to the permanent collection
• A gallery dedicated to Emily Carr

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