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City Council hears plea for Vancouver Art Gallery relocation

Vancouver Art Gallery, in a photo from Wikimedia Creative Commons

The Vancouver Art Gallery and City Council have been engaged in an on going discussion about creating a new art museum that will, advocates say, stand as an architectural landmark. The proposed building at 688 Cambie Street is a desirable location, advocates say, because of its close proximity to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, CBC, and The Downtown Public Library.

The proposal for the new building includes dedicated galleries for collections, an expansion of school programs, a theatre for films and lectures, outdoor art/event space, and a restaurant. Advocates for the museum argue that this is a rare opportunity to create a cultural hub and are asking the city to make two acres available.

At city council today Hank Bull, Executive Director of Centre A (a non-profit art gallery), said that investment in cultural centres is key to the growth of the city. Wanting Vancouver to be recognized as more than just a “fun” city, the relocation will assist in making Vancouver a “great city for arts and learning," he said.

Various speakers spoke on behalf of the location explaining that it would lead to other cultural options such as an Aboriginal arts centre or an Asian cultural centre.

Kathleen Bartels, Director of VAG, said that the courthouse was built to be a courthouse and not an art gallery. With more space, the gallery would be able to provide additional permanent exhibitions of local artists.

Acoustics in the building are also quite poor, with many members left unsatisfied because they cannot properly hear artist commentaries. Another concern raised was that the gallery experiences climate control problems, and is subsequently filled with dehumidifiers. Bartels said that the unattractive appearance has become a reason for complaint among visitors. As it stands, The VAG is the largest public art gallery in Western Canada with an international reputation that shouldn’t be tarnished.

Bartels reported that the gallery has had over 3.5 million visitors in the last decade, with 30% of visitors under the age of 35. With growing youth interest, an expanded space would allow more opportunities for school-based projects.

Concerned citizen and local businessman, David Allison, said that the art gallery does not have the space to meet the demand of school children and often has to turn these groups away. To “grow with grace,” Allison said,  Vancouver needs to create a central cultural hub, which this relocation would promote.

Landon MacKenzie, a Professor at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, said that contemporary art is changing and growing, with young artists designing limitless possibilities. The VAG cannot meet the technological challenges of many of these new projects.

President of Cupe 15, Paul Faoro, is supportive of this move on the condition that the museum remains public and is financially transparent. He raised concern that admission costs should be affordable (currently membership is 75 dollars per year).

Faoro is skeptical about the allocation of four million dollars of public funding each year, stating that it is difficult to find out where the money is spent.  Concerned where taxpayer dollars are headed, Faoro called for an annual report of spending and posted salaries of all employees making over 75,000. In response, Bartels said that this is a privacy issue, and salaries cannot be published without permission.  

Lastly, the motion was met to provide 2.5 million dollars for a new senior centre in south east Vancouver. Advocates said that more seniors live in the south east quadrant than in any other division of Vancouver, yet seven senior centres are elsewhere. Currently, community centres in south east Vancouver are overflowing and unable to meet the demands of a disperse demographic.

Advocates provided a strong argument in support of the new centre by drawing attention to potential issues of mental health, such as depression, among senior citizens. Mona Gibbs, an advocate for the senior centre, said “if we can keep our seniors active and involved, they can stay fit physically and mentally.” With more social interactions and community involvement, citizens are able to live longer, healthier lives.

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