Lack of federal funding could further delay Vancouver Art Gallery's new home

Dec 19 2017, 8:57 pm

Construction on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new building at Larwill Park in downtown Vancouver is scheduled to begin in 2017, but the museum is still quite a distance away from reaching that groundbreaking milestone.

The Vancouver Art Gallery was hoping for $100 million from the federal government’s budget to help cover its $350 million plan to construct a new world-class building. It did not receive this on Tuesday.

Last fall, the Gallery revealed a 230-foot-tall, wood-clad design shaped like a stack of irregularly shaped boxes, designed by internationally renowned Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron.

The plan would build 310,000 square feet of floor area, including 85,000 square feet of exhibition space – more than double the existing space found at the old courthouse building.


But as of late 2015, the Gallery has only reached a small fraction of that $350 million goal. The last publicly released figures indicate that about $73 million has been raised, including $50 million from the provincial government announced during the Gordon Campbell era and $23 million from the Gallery’s Board of Trustees.

The publicly-owned land the new building will sit on – worth $100 million in 2013 – was provided in-kind by the City of Vancouver on the condition that the Gallery will receive $100 million from the federal government and another $50 million from the provincial government.

However, Premier Christy Clark has rejected requests for further provincial funding and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent federal budget for cultural infrastructure focuses only on national, federally-operated museums. The City-imposed deadline for the senior government funding commitments was in April 2015, but city officials have shown some leniency and flexibility ever since that deadline passed.

Over the next five years, as part of its $1.87 billion cultural sector budget, the federal government will allocate $281 million for the expansion and renovation projects of the Canada Science and Technology Museum, National Arts Centre, and National Gallery of Canada. Another $105.9 will be spent on increasing the operational costs of these museums.

“We are pleased to see that the new federal budget includes such a significant investment in arts and culture, which is much needed,” Debra Zhou, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Art Gallery, told Vancity Buzz.

“We look forward to the additional details as the programme is developed further. Meanwhile, we continue to work hard with all decision-makers and reach out to all kinds of communities.”

While it did not receive any funding this round, the museum could see its much-needed federal windfall in the next budget. Trudeau’s ministers have previously stated that the first budget would only consider shovel-ready projects.

But with steep provincial and private funding gaps, the Gallery’s new home is far from being shovel ready.

Meanwhile at Whistler Village, a new $30 million art gallery boasting a permanent collection with 200 works, including works by Emily Carr and First Nations artefacts, opened its doors to the public earlier this month.

The 56,000-square-foot Audain Art Museum in Whistler was entirely privately funded by Vancouver developer and art collector Michael Audain, who separated himself from the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation in 2014 by leaving his positions as the organization’s chair, a trustee, and the head of the Gallery’s relocation committee. The move was seen as a major loss to the Gallery and its ambitious plans to build a new museum.



Image: Herzog & de Meuron / Vancouver Art Gallery

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