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Debate over art gallery draws standing-room and thoughtful crowd

May 21st, 2010 · 19 Comments

It was packed last night at the Robson Square Theatre as people came out to hear the debate over whether and where the Vancouver Art Gallery should move to, along with contributing their own opinions.

Fourteen people spoke in all. Seven were outright in favour of the gallery moving to a new site, including documentary film-maker Michael Cox, who said he’d come in against the move but been convinced that it needed to move. Another two people offered qualified support for a new site, saying that the gallery should either share it with other cultural institutions (Sean Bickerton) or split its collection between two sites, the existing one for more historical work and the new one for one contemporary work (volunteer Cathy Burrell).

Noted architect Bruno Fresci suggested expanding into the Erickson’s courthouse and getting the offices now there to move elsewhere. UBC architecture professor emeritus Andrew Gruft suggested gutting the existing courthouse and building something new over, around and under it. Brenda Burke said the gallery needs to convince her and others that it can serve the people who can’t afford a $21 entrance fee before it asks them to pay the taxes to support a new building.

All in all, a wide-ranging discussion, which Globe reporter Marsha Lederman has detailed more of here.

And just to give you a perspective from outside that room, here’s my most recent column in Vancouver magazine, where I talked to people elsewhere, including the director of the National Gallery in Ottawa and one of the VAG’s major supporters in Toronto, about the VAG and the debate swirling around its potential move.

This debate is so mesmerizing because it really is about how we think of Vancouver and how we imagine it in the future. Artist Ian Wallace mentioned several times that Vancouver is a frontier town that needs to take the next step into the future, although being a frontier town, it tends to be conservative when faced with change. Andrew Pask from the Vancouver Public Space Network provided an interesting insight into the past about the Larwill Park site where the gallery’s directors want to move it. While some say that would remove the gallery from the centre of town, he pointed out that Larwill Park used to be a major public space that hosted city demonstrations and protests, military displays, and carnivals. It could become a locus of that kind of public gathering again.

What has become clearer to me as all the points of view roll out is what should be (and should not be) explored more.

It seems to me, if the gallery is going to make its case to the public, it has to prove:

1. That it really can’t build on the existing site. I personally think it would be hard to build some modern structure over and around the building because heritage advocates in this town would set themselves on fire on the front steps in an effort to preserve one of the city’s few remaining historic buildings. I’d be tempted to join them. I also think Michael Audain has a point when he says it’s a no go to build on the plaza. He said that he personally would be out picketing in front of the gallery to protest a move like that, because the space is a valuable urban gathering space (one where he helped organize the city’s biggest peace march, in the 1960s, that it had had since the 1930s). But the gallery’s reps need to explain more why they can’t go underground or over into the courthouse or split its collection between two sites, as the Tate did in London and as Cathy Burrell suggested.

2. That it won’t hurt other arts groups. One of the biggest fears that serious art lovers in town have is that the VAG’s fundraising efforts will drain all the arts money in town towards them. There are many small galleries and museums living on the edge. As well, Emily Carr University of Art is planning to build a massive new campus on the False Creek Flats within the next five years — the same time frame as the gallery’s fund-raising campaign. It too has to raise money for what it wants, in spite of getting generous provincial backing. VAG education director Heidi Reitmaier, who spoke in favour of the move at the conversation late night, said there were all kinds of fears when the Tate Modern opened in London that it too would suck the money and life out of smaller arts ventures. (She was working at the Tate at the time.) “The amazing thing was that as more money was poured into the Tate, it benefitted other institutions and strengthened all of them.” The VAG’s leaders need to show they’re working with other arts groups, that they’ve developed a plan so that others will benefit and that those other arts groups are supporting them.

3. That it has a business plan for running the future gallery. I’ve heard all kinds of criticisms and worries that the VAG is operating on the thinnest of margins already. So how will it support a much bigger building that needs more staff, more maintenance, more of everything.

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  • Baran

    Thanks for this coverage Frances. I missed some of the discussion last night; but, as for the part that I did see, I was rather disappointed that the evening precluded a real debate, as it had promised to present. I would have loved to see some passionate discussions, where people really got deeper into the issue. The evening provided an opportunity for civic participartion and sort of a dialogue, but not the kind of debate that this topic needs to have.

    I was rather surprised by Andrew Pask’s (VPSN) eagerness for reviving Larwill Park’s old glory. While I understand the many constraints of VAG’s current site, I completely agree with Andrew Gruft that the current location is priceless and tht the land-uses around 150 Dunsmuir do not present the same kind of synergy. Besides, VAG’s Georgia and Robson Street plazas are the only major civic gathering places we have in the heart of the city. As Lance Berelowitz puts it, we are an edge city with majority of our public spaces along the waterfronts, which make the VAG site even more valuable from a civic and municipal perspective. Part of the civic identity of this site is due to the presence of the city’s prominant art institution. Having said that, I think the issue of VAG’s location is a lot bigger than the board and director of the VAG care about, and that the city’s planners and cultural planners should spearhead this debate – in collaboration with the VAG of course. We need to get creative and figure out ways to make expansion on the current site work.

  • Tiktaalik

    One key thing that has often been overlooked is the opportunity for opening up the existing VAG building for additional uses by a cultural institution. I’m glad the Globe article mentions this at the end. I think it’s absolutely key to the discussion

    If you were to ask someone flatly if they VAG should move from the courthouse building they’ll likely say no, but if you put in some extra description about retaining the space for a future art gallery or museum I don’t think people would be terribly opposed to the idea.

    For downtown cultural attractions Vancouver doesn’t have much. It seems that most great cities have multiple galleries and museums and so I think Vancouver needs to step up here. Vancouver has an incredible, rich history and the MOV moving to the current VAG site would probably be a very good thing. I know folks who’ve lived in this city for years that have never been to the museum. With a VAG move Vancouver has an opportunity to have two downtown cultural sites, and to me that’s a very positive idea.

    I hear the phrase “tearing the heart out of the city” all the time in this discussion, but I don’t think it would be an issue if that that downtown cultural institution is immediately replaced with another cultural institution. In addition I am not sure there is any actual correlation between the VAG and the art gallery site as a public space/square/protest space. It’s downtown’s only central vaguely squareish location. Naturally it’s going to be used as such. As long as the space is a public space I don’t think that the VAG moving will change this.

    Regarding this public talk I wasn’t there and so I’m glad it’s being covered here and in the media. The idea of the art gallery taking over the law courts space is actually a pretty interesting one that I hadn’t heard before.

  • MB

    Thanks for defining the issues so well, Frances.

    Well put, Tiktaalik and Baran.

    I believe that the architecture and open space (“the heart of the city”) surrounding the Rattenbury courthouse / existing VAG are not dependent on the presence of an art gallery. It’s the other way around … VAG benefits by occupying this wonderful but very inadequate space. The outdoor public gathering function and the building — the Heart — are not going to disappear if VAG moves. This is an opportunity to create another wonderful space that is even more oriented to culture, which can only make Vancouver richer.

    Why is there so much insecurity about our culture, which truly is unique?

    The VAG board presented many technical reasons why they require a better and larger space. These have not been adequately refuted in my view to stop the VAG’s objectives to not just find new space for storage, workshops, classrooms, conservation shops, not to mention much, much more exhibition space, but to have complete control for a purpose-built design, from the ground up. Relying on separate private climate controlled warehouses or a satellite museum are not appropriate to a major cultural institution because they merely extend the temporary-ness of having totally inadequate space. For one the operating costs will be higher, which requires satellite staff and satellite operating budgets and additional transportation.

    WRT the Larwill site, never forget that Rattenbury started with a clean slate too, just like Larwill is now. Back in the day the Heart of the city was further north and east, roughly the same distance Larwill is from Georgia x Howe today.

    Should VAG at Larwill eventually get the green light, then the public open space especially on the SW (Georgia St) side should receive as much programming attention and quality treatment as the building facade and interior. Please, no more Coliseums or windswept left over outdoor spaces. And please treat Georgia Street as it’s propoer designation as Vancouver’s premier ceremonial way.

    Rennie should stick to what he knows: selling private condos. His comments indicate a shocking depth of ignorance about the importance of enhancing our public realm, starting with our cultural institutions and ending with our urban public spaces.

  • Roy Arden

    The idea that moving the VAG to the Larwill Park site will “tear the heart out of the city” doesn’t hold water. When the Library moved it had the effect of growing the centre and a VAG move would do the same. Modifying the present VAG would run into huge difficulties re: heritage as many have noted, and the Georgia St. park-like plaza is untouchable as a rare green space in the centre.

    Some people assume that the new building will be a ‘starchitect’ travesty but having spoken with the leadership at the VAG I am convinced that they have done their research well and would never let this happen. Besides, that kind of argument is merely pessimism and would prevent any positive development.

    The VAG needs to move to an iconic stand alone building for the same reasons that any other institution or company might – the same reasons that were behind the building of City Hall, BC Place, QE Theatre, VPL, or The Museum of Anthropology. I don’t believe most people would support having City Hall in the Sears building. Does anyone think the MOA was a mistake? Most foreign visitors I meet come here because of the contemporary art scene, yet they invariably mention the MOA as the most memorable place they visited. The MOA’s collection is missing many of the NWCoast masterpieces that were earlier hustled off to museums elsewhere. Yet, despite the MOA’s modest collection, the unity of it’s holdings and architecture create a powerful, moving effect.

    It is the iconic, unified and singular nature of the MOA that impresses. The current VAG presents no such image and most visitors tell me that it appears jerry-rigged, provincial and disappointing. Many are fans of the old courthouse but I suspect this is for sentimental reasons rather than a deep love of its pastiche neo-colonialism. While I agree the courthouse is a valuable heritage building, I believe it’s architectural language is all wrong for the VAG. However as a heritage site it would very appropriate for the Vancouver Museum. A VAG move could be a great gift to the Vancouver Museum which currently suffers from its location and could find a new bar to rise to – gaining relevance and value for the community.

    I hear the VAG and art characterised as elitist but this old charge only ever seems born of insecurity on the part of adults who have worked themselves into a complex. Unlike sporting, music and theatre events most galleries, including private ones, are free to visit. The VAG, like many large museums has a ‘free admission night’ system which acts as a very reasonable means test; if you can afford to pay to visit at your convenience, good – if you can’t then go on the free night. As a broke young artist until my 30’s this system seemed fine to me.

    I notice that children never seem to feel the alleged ‘chill’ of elitism at art galleries. Instead they feel quite at home – safe, curious, open to wonder. My own evolution as an artist from a working class immigrant background was facilitated by the social democratic institutions of this city like the VAG, MOA, VPL, community centres etc… Grown-ups who resort to the elitist charge strike me as lazy, neurotic or reactionary, not far from the chorus who tried to paint Obama as elitist while missing the fact that Cheney had just looted the US coffers. In our society it might be true that there is an elite that is robbing you but it isn’t public institutions like the VAG. Art galleries are and have always been for everyone, they are a cornerstone of any enlightened society.

    The media seem to enjoy inflating the debate around the VAG move because it gives them something to write. They have decided to make it difficult for the VAG leadership and in an open society that is something the VAG will have to contend with and I am sure they will cope.However, I would like to see more fairness from the media who have given free bullhorns to a small group of opponents. As journalists they should examine the possible agendas and motives behind the opposition. I notice inordinate airtime given freely to people who have little qualification and dubious purpose. We know what the agenda of the VAG and its board is – to give Vancouver a destination art gallery for the benefit of all Vancouverites, Canadians and visitors. It will be a place to meet, contemplate, learn, and celebrate the art of the past and present.

  • Michael

    The most interesting comments made Thursday night were those that focused on public spaces. Internally, the VAG has the ability to grow in either location. The only question is cost. But, the more important matter, raised by Andrew Gruft, Andrew Pask, Sean Bickerton, Bruno Fresci, and others, was the impact that the VAG has in fostering a vibrancy in the heart of downtown.

    As the density of downtown moves east, with the development of north False Creek, there will be a need for more public gathering spaces. Over the coming years, both Larwill Park and Robson Square should serve that purpose. Whether the VAG should serve as a magnet in Larwill Park is another matter. A new venue for the Symphony could serve the same purpose.

    I agree with Michael Audain that the Georgia St lawn should be left alone (although perhaps a revamp of the fountain could enliven the space more). But I was also interested to hear Andrew Pask inform us of Larwill Park’s past glory.

    Robson Sq, particularly the block between Smithe and Robson, is an underused space that really ought to be a more vibrant heart for the city. The VAG should expand under Robson St, into the current UBC space. Let’s get rid of the silly clamshell awnings that take up so much space, and eliminate the seasonal ice rink. Let’s close that block of Robson St, and build a beautiful park stretching from the Gallery Café to the Law Courts. It could be a beautiful public space where we could gather for concerts or to watch films projected on the side of the Sear’s building.

    Meanwhile, in Larwill Park, the Symphony could occupy a new space in one corner while the rest of the lot could bring vibrancy to a dull part of town with green spaces, a café, and a weekly Farmer’s Market serving the clientele in the new condos to the east.

    Just as easily, the same results could occur if the VAG moved to Larwill and the MOV occupied the Rattenbury courthouse. The important thing is that the street life in both locations is encouraged through thoughtful planning.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    No where is Vancouver’s urbanism more disjointed than at the Old Greyhound Depot. Centre for the Performing Arts, the Colosseum Library, the CBC, line up on one side of this lower part of West Georgia that I once called “an open traffic sewer”. On the other side of the street are the Post Office, the QE Theatre, and the parking lot/proposed site for a new VAG.

    Venture another two blocks downhill and you will arrive at our two sports stadiums, and very soon a casino.

    Is parking another super block building going to help the urbanism of this part of our city? The VAG would move half a mile down Georgia to a “culture and sports and gaming” zone robbed of any vitality.

    Mix makes places work.

    My concern is not with the VAG but rather with the Larwill site. Let’s make a decision that makes sense from a point of enhancing the quality of place.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Day

    “VAG is a nice, old lady with no itch, what-so-ever. That’s why, to the ones in favor of relocation I say, get that VAGisil out of your purses and balm your lips…to relive yours.”

    ….”Mix makes places work.”
    I like that.
    Very well said, Lewis.
    In order for this to work, however, you’ll have to shout it throw a blow-horn aimed directly at the City Hall’s ear. But keep a box of Q-tips handy, those ears are most probably heavily plugged.

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Roy Arden

    re: previous post “neo-colonialism” should have been “neo-classicism” – but then again……

  • I’m agnostic on the need for VAG to move, although clearly they need more space. But if they are intent on moving, that move can’t be considered solely on the basis of the VAGs admirable aspirations, but needs to be placed in the context of the broader cultural needs of the entire city.

    While we already have an art gallery in a prime location right downtown, unlike any other city our size we still have no recital hall downtown and no mid-sized concert hall for our Grammy award-winning symphony orchestra.

    This context cannot be ignored.

    Further, the Larwill Park site is not just a piece of vacant land like any other. It’s unique and exists in relationship to a neighbourhood and is surrounded by monolithic, single-use, block-long buildings with little or no street-level commercial activity. As a result, the area forms a dead zone at night, with the exception of pedestrians passing quickly through to attend sports events or shows at the QE.

    Yet the VAG is proposing to add yet another single-purpose institutional building to the neighbourhood, in essence a beautiful piece of architectural sculpture set in the middle of a garden. A building conceived as an ornate sculpture would be beautiful to look at during the day, but would only add to the desolate streets to be found here at night.

    By contrast, a combination of tenants would help enliven the area – if we had an art gallery, a symphony hall and a recital hall in that space, we would have people during the day attending the gallery, and at night others would go to concerts in the two new halls as well as plays, operas and shows at the QE at night.

    If cafes, bars and a fountain replaced Cambie between Dunsmuir and Georgia, and the QE opened up a bit more in the back to present more ‘face’ to Larwill Park, we could create a dynamic, thriving fulcrum of activity that would bring the entire surrounding corner of the city back to life.

    It would make for wonderful artistic synergy, create endless opportunities for cross-promotion, and enable the kinds of thematic programming across all genres – plays, operas, concerts, exhibitions and more – that great directors only dream of.

    If we approach the development of Larwill Park in that context, with the goal of addressing the overall cultural needs of the entire city rather than just those of one institution, and if we understand the existing challenges of the Larwill Park neighbourhood and fashion a comprehensive plan for the area designed to overcome the lack of life, we could fashion a win-win solution for the VAG, our Symphony, Recital Series and Chamber Music series, and enliven this corner of Vancouver for generations to come.

  • Tessa

    Not that this will ever happen, but it would be cool if they just bought the Sears building, completely renovated/rebuilt it from inside out, and turned that into the art gallery. Keep the same location and I’m sure the department store floors would work well for an art gallery.

    Not exactly starchitecture, though…;)

  • Tessa

    That said, Sean Bickerton, with your much more serious comment, has a really good plan. More mix for the site, more variety of uses, more life. That’s my biggest concern with that block, that this project will just make that dead zone even more dead.

  • Tess, for what it’s worth, the relocation committee seriously investigated the possibility of reusing the Sears space…unfortunately, the lease in place essentially put an end to the idea. We looked at quite a few different things…

  • Lance Berelowitz

    All good comments, but what is conspicuous by its absence is any meaningful comment, let alone vision, by the City of Vancouver. I was unable to attend the event on May 20, but am told that Councillor Heather Deal was not able to stay for the whole event and made only some very general comments, without signaling any commitment to the VAG project by our current City Council. And I have not heard publicly on this from anyone else at City Hall, either elected or senior management. This is extraordinary: you might think that a cultural institution as vital and important as Vancouver’s public art gallery would enjoy the wholehearted support of our City Council, especially as the current Vision Party got elected in part on a platform that supports a vibrant cultural sector as a vital part of our city’s future. The VAG has identified the Larwill Park site as the best possible site. The City owns it outright. No doubt there are those inside City Hall (most likely on the third floor) calculating the market value of “donating” such a site to the VAG, and advising Council against giving away the store. But since when has the City become a developer motivated just by profit, rather then the greater public good? And aren’t there more creative ways of realizing the market value of its land? Regardless of the “opportunity cost” merits/drawbacks of contributing the Larwill Park site, the City should be leading the charge here in finding a viable solution. Instead we get prevarication and, mostly, silence. Where is our political leadership when we need it?

  • Am Johal

    The VAG should move to the Larwill Park site – it would create the opportunity to revitalize an important public square. For protests during the height of the Great Depression in the militant 30’s, they would start at Oppenheimer Park and end at Cambie Grounds. The photographs from that era are amazing.

    The VAG moving to Larwill Park would also defend the site against another condo tower – an unfortunate financial reality hovering in the background since the financing of the renovations to the QE Theatre was based on using that site. I think that Michael Audain’s position on this, that a future art gallery cannot have a condo tower on site is crucial.

    The move of the VAG, however, has to be prefaced by an appropriate use of its current space, otherwise the move doesn’t work. Protection of the existing space as a public square is vital – it would make a great location for a contemporary aboriginal art gallery or museum. It could become an international destination in its own right. Those who are advocating for the VAG move need to be proactive on this front as it will bring more supporters to their cause if the debate around uses of the existing site can be part of the conversation.

    (No matter what happens, could someone please get rid of that dreadful fountain on the Georgia Street side – it’s an embarrassment).

  • booge

    Why do we need a new Gallery? Make the one that is there work… add, dig, expand to the back … but stay where your at VAG. And I _am_ an Art lover. But a realistic one. (@ Ian Wallace we want to stay a frontier town. It’s a positive)

  • Lance Berelowitz

    Am Johal is spot on: the proposed relocation of the VAG presents both an opportunity but also an obligation to protect and enhance the current Robson Square precinct as a locus of public life in our city.

    The opportunity: As has been pointed out by others, Robson Square works (imperfectly) as a public space largely in spite of, not because of, the presence of the VAG. In fact, one of the more egregious consequences of the conversion of the former courthouse into the art gallery was the closing of the building’s front door facing Georgia Street, essentially orphaning the plaza on the north side (and the accretion of objects like the fountain and 2010 Olympic Games clock have not helped). Any contemplated change in tenants of the courthouse building can and should include reopening this entrance and re-engaging Centennial Plaza (yup, that’s its official name, bet most of us don’t know that) as a vital public space. This is a huge opportunity that the VAG’s relocation opens up.

    The obligation of course is to find a viable new public use for the heritage building that continues to attract people and foster cultural life in the centre of our city. In addition to the three things (all of which I agree with) that Frances identified in her column which the gallery needs to prove in order to make its case to the public, the VAG also needs to help make the case for what happens to the old courthouse. Or at least seriously explore this aspect of its proposed move, in order to assuage people (including some of those in City Hall no doubt) that it’s departure would not mean a diminution of Robson Square generally, and the former courthouse building specifically, as vital cultural assets. I can think of several organizations that would salivate over getting into the building, as others have suggested. But we do need a reality check: Who decides what happens to the old building? Who pays for such a change? How viable is it economically? And how adaptable is the current building to a new program? What happens to the former courthouse is at least as important in this debate as where the VAG goes. Hmm, I think the VAG’s capital cost estimate might have just risen a little.

  • Norman

    Honestly, this isn’t high on my agenda. I might go once a year, usually to be disappointed that the exhibition doesn’t live up to the advertising. If they need more space, they can start by “deacquisitioning” many of their lesser pieces. What I would really like to see is an endowment fund that would allow VAG to get some of the really phenomenal travelling exhibitions, like the one from the Vatican a few years ago, instead of pretending the they have discovered new brushstrokes in some Emily Carr.

  • MB

    I am very happy to read comments that are concerned with heritage, urbanism and creating viable and meaningful public space (enclosed and open).

    The issue is so much more than just housing a bunch of paintings. Our public institutions are representative of our identity and cultural rememberance, and have everything to do with creating places that people can treasure.

    Using the Larwill site is an opportunity to expand the city’s Heart, not diminish it, and to finally address uplifting the public realm a couple of rungs above utilitarian.

    But there remains the issue of the $48 million tied to Larwill. It’s true, City Council has been quite silent on the significance of cultural intitutions in Vancouver. So far a significant effort has been expended to to elucidate that their primary focus is on money, not culture. Both are important, and one does not preclude the other.

    Well, the provincial government has already offered $50 million toward the project. This effectively cancels the debt and frees up the entire block for a new art museum. Perhaps the federal government could make amends for its rather tortuous anti-arts funding logic (look where it got them in Quebec) and match the provincial contribution.

    Having to share the block with a private condo tower is a workable scenario from only a beancounter’s perspective, but does not bode well for having enough room left to create an outdoor plaza as richly textured, well-progammed and meaningful as an art museum. It also privatizes a portion of tbhe site for one of the most important public amenities in a city that will displace Montreal as Canada’s second largest city by early mid-century at current growth rates. To some people it seems we are still a backwater in the hinterland, and there are no tomorrows.

    The open space (it’s hard to call it an urban plaza ….) in front of the Rattenbury VAG / court house turns out to be practically as treasured as the building itself. Neither it or the Rattenbury will be lost with a move to Larwill. It is an opportunity to create another plaza, this time much, much better designed and programmed to be full of life, art and activity and to indicate that Georgia Street will no longer be treated as “an open traffic sewer.”

    Sharing Larwill with other arts organizations as Sean B. suggested may be worthy of consideration. But, if memory serves, the VSO already has a home at the Orpheum which is being extensively renovated in part for its needs.

    Perhaps a new art museum at Larwill could consider the above generous south-facing plaza that contains a glassed over amphitheatre for 1,500 people with scheduled daily concerts representing the range of genres. Animating an outdoor space with cafes, public art, etc., is not rocket science. It’s just that all the attention has been focused on buildings, not the spaces that surround them. Therein we now have a growing collection of ugly open spaces treated as nothing more than the crust trimmings off the edges of the pie. Open space should be part of the pie.

    A new VAG should consider a major acquisition campaign and display of West Coast aboriginal art. It is a stunning, unique and powerful form, and the traditional is now complemented by works by emerging contemporary aboriginal artists. If the original mould still exists, perhaps a third version of Bill Reid’s The Spirit of Haida Gwaii or The Jade Canoe could be commissioned for a central focal fountain within the entry plaza to a new art museum.

  • Emmy

    I think if the Vancouver Art Gallery could make its currently facilities at 750 Hornby work, this discussion would not be happening.

    However, the present space already has limitations. The building was never really a purpose-built art gallery; it was a provincial courthouse. Consequently, their art vaults (supposedly once the courthouse jail cells) below ground are supposedly at capacity and the Vancouver Art Gallery has to rent storage space off site. Expansion underground is limited by the fact that UBC has a thirty year lease at Robson Square to the south of the property, and the storage areas of the art gallery are to the north, underneath the Georgia Street public plaza.

    As for limiting the space of the Vancouver Art Gallery with another cultural facility, people should recognize that an art gallery needs space to accomodate the types of art that are being produced. For example, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has ONE gallery space that is 10 000 square feet that is free of vertical supports. That means that the gallery can easily accommodate large scale art, such as a Richard Serra piece that can easily weigh over a ton. As it stands, the Vancouver Art Gallery couldn’t even show some of the larger pieces of the Andreas Gursky exhibition that was here last year because some of the exhibition spaces are just too small. A new art gallery could also have a larger education facility which is already at capacity and could probably accommodate very easily the 400 000 school students that find their way there per year. Dont’ forget that most modern art galleries and museums will also have an auditorium (for performances, lectures and films) and the requisite book store/gift shop and eateries that can help generate revenue for the institution.

    Should there be an utter lack of attention and care from the electorate and the civic government, it does not erase the fact that the Vancouver Art Gallery still is in this precarious position of space and exhibition limitations. If they are unable to secure the Larwill Park location, it only means that the price and the challenges of building a purpose built art gallery goes up.

    For what it’s worth, should they need some land to build an expansive and appropriate Vancouver Art Gallery facility, they should move east, way east to the land that Guy Carleton School sits on. The school is slated to be closed by the provincial government, and there would be a LOT of land for the gallery’s consideration. The Vancouver Art Gallery says that public support for a gallery move is higher on the east side of Vancouver than the west side. The land would also stay in public hands and give the neighbourhood an incredible landmark.

    Besides, if the city was committed to urbanism, I think a purpose-built art gallery at Kingsway and Joyce would be a wonderful alternative to the big box stores that city council continues to dump on the east side of town with little consideration from city council and even lesser consideration from the city’s media.