Vancouver Art Gallery receives historic donation of $100 million towards new building

Nov 4 2021, 4:58 pm

A vision to provide the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) with a new and expanded landmark modern building has taken one big step towards being secured, following the largest private financial contribution ever to an art gallery in Canada.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, a $100-million donation was announced by Michael Audain, the chairman of local development firm Polygon Homes, and a renowned art collector and philanthropist.

The donation will be made through his family’s namesake foundation, which has supported numerous museums, art galleries, and arts-based institutions and organizations across the province.

The Audain Foundation opened the $44-million, 56,000 sq ft Audain Art Museum in Whistler Village in 2016, which permanently houses some of his most valuable collections. And both his foundation and development firm donated a combined $4 million to the 2017-built, $18-million Presentation House Gallery on the Lonsdale waterfront in North Vancouver, now named the Polygon Gallery.

The $100-million contribution by Audain exceeds the $70-million cash portion of the donation made in 2002 by Kenneth Thomson II, the owner of Thomson Reuters, towards Toronto’s Art Gallery of Toronto expansion.

Audain’s contribution brings the total fundraising total for the new VAG to $240 million, including $40 million by the Chan Family Foundation, perhaps best known for its contribution to the University of British Columbia for the construction of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, as well as $50 million from individual donors and other foundations, and $50 million from the provincial government dating back to 2008.

“Important art has been created on this coast for thousands of years, while today Vancouver’s visual artists are recognized for their accomplishments around the world. Yoshi and I are happy to help build a new Vancouver Art Gallery because we love British Columbia and our artists,” said Audain.

Audain had a fallout with the VAG’s previous leadership about eight years ago, but his relationship with the VAG has been a long one, dating back to the early 1990s when he joined as one of its board of directors. He has also served as the chair of the board for the National Gallery of Canada.

“We hope the splendid new building will work well to exhibit the work of our leading artists as well as introduce youngsters to the wonders of art. Vancouver has been good to our family, so we are thrilled to have this opportunity to join the City of Vancouver, the BC government, the Chan family, and many other generous donors in making this important project a reality,” he added.

The footprint for the new VAG building is located at Larwill Park — at the northeast corner of Cambie Street and West Georgia Street, immediately east of Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This is a property owned by the City of Vancouver, gifted to the VAG through a 99-year lease, valued at over $100 million.

VAG officials hope to start construction in 2022 for an opening four years later, but this would depend on additional fundraising to fully cover the latest estimated construction cost of $400 million. To achieve this, the VAG is targeting $80 million from the federal government and other community partners, and an additional $80 million from philanthropy — an additional $160 million from other sources.

The donation by Audain provides the much-delayed project with new momentum. It was initially set to begin construction in 2019 for an opening in 2023, but the pace of fundraising was slow for years.

During today’s announcement, a major revision of the building’s 2015-made design by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Vancouver architect of record Perkins & Will was also revealed.

Original 2015 design:

New Vancouver Art Gallery

Previous original 2015 design of the new building of the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Herzog & de Meuron/Vancouver Art Gallery)

Revised 2021 design:

vancouver art gallery new building 2021 design

Revised 2021 design of the new building for the Vancouver Art Gallery at Larwill Park. (Herzog & de Meuron/Vancouver Art Gallery)

Simon Demeuse, the Herzog & de Meuron partner in charger of the VAG project, explained that the process to finalize the revised design is still a work in progress.

The building is still essentially a tower — roughly the equivalent of 20 storeys in height — of differently-sized boxes stacked over each other, but the massing and form has changed, with larger volumes for the upper portion from a redistribution of floor area.

As well, the skin of the building has taken on an added layer of a copper-coloured woven metal facade, that acts like a light veil, and provides First Nations-inspired traditionally woven textiles. This skin changes its appearance depending on the perspective of the observer and the time of day. Local First Nations artists Debra Sparrow, Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George, Skwetsimeltxw Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph, and Angela George were added to the project as design consultants since March 2021.

This building will be constructed using mass timber construction materials and methods, and it will be the first art gallery in North America to achieve a Passive House green building certification.

The building’s total floor area is now slightly larger than what was previously planned — now 330,000 sq ft, up by about 20,000 sq ft. It will include over 80,000 sq ft of exhibition space, more than doubling the existing exhibition space at the VAG’s presence in the former courthouse building at Robson Square.

There will be visible art storage, a theatre, library, research centre, artist studios, accommodation for visiting artists, and a visual arts preschool and daycare.

All of this hovers above a 40,000 sq ft public courtyard at the base of the building.

vancouver art gallery new design 2021

Revised 2021 design of the new building for the Vancouver Art Gallery at Larwill Park. (Vancouver Art Gallery)

“With the generosity of our donors, the creativity of artists, and the support of our communities, we are transforming the art gallery to transform the world,” said Anthony Kiendl, who joined the Vancouver Art Gallery as its CEO and director last year.

“This project will provide opportunities for learning and inspiration for millions of visitors to the Gallery. Art galleries foster society’s capacity to solve problems by engaging the visitors’ ability to think creatively and see the world in different ways. We are building capacity for future generations to be resilient, creative, and healthy.”

Larwill Park has long been used as a parking lot, and TransLink recently began using it as a facility for their buses. The art gallery would be built on the southernmost two-thirds parcel of this city block facing West Georgia Street, while the northernmost end of the block facing Dunsmuir Street is envisioned by the municipal government to become a pair of office towers reaching a total floor area of about 500,000 sq ft. Artistic renderings for the new VAG have depicted placeholder office tower forms.

After the VAG moves to its new home a few blocks to the east, the existing former courthouse building, owned by the provincial government, will be repurposed.

Larwill Park will be subdivided into two lots: coloured in red for the new Vancouver Art Gallery, and coloured in blue for office towers. (City of Vancouver)

Larwill Park 688 cambie street

Larwill Park at 688 Cambie Street in downtown Vancouver, the future home of the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Google Maps)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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