Bob Rennie coauthors report calling for decentralized Vancouver Art Gallery System
Condo marketer Bob Rennie is calling for a radical overhaul of the Vancouver Art Gallery. In a 22-page paper (click download above), Rennie and coauthor David Baxter, an economic forecaster, oppose the development of a new 300,000-square-foot art gallery—which they say will cost $300 million—on the former bus-depot site across from the Sandman Hotel on West Georgia Street.
Instead, Rennie and Baxter recommend creating a decentralized “Vancouver Art Gallery System” costing $150 million, including a $25-million acquisition budget. The collection would continue to be showcased in the current 40,000-square-foot space, as well as in a new 50,000-square-foot gallery and four thematic 12,000-square-foot galleries dispersed in the community. These facilities would be dedicated to “First Nations contemporary”, “Asian/East Asian”, “graphics and design”, and “religious and spiritual” art.
Rennie and Baxter also propose an underground 40,000-square-foot “gallery of conceptual photography”. Art is currently stored in this area of the VAG out of public view.
“Let’s get the storage off the most expensive land in Canada and go underground under the front lawn—not under the museum,” Rennie told the Straight by phone.
He said that the city could generate more income from the former bus-depot site by developing rental housing, with the proceeds funding visual arts. “What if you build rental towers there?” he said. “As the mortgage is paid down, you have money forever.”
He mentioned that the proposed contemporary gallery system could be financed through a community-amenity contribution, which the city demands from developers in return for greater density. “We’re not a head-office city,” Rennie emphasized. “We can’t drain the philanthropy pool to have any one [gallery] survive at the expense of all others. And the government money isn’t there.”
He said that the report has been sent to about 50 people, including Premier Christy Clark and city manager Penny Ballem. Vancouver Art Gallery board member David Aisenstat and director Kathleen Bartels were unavailable for comment today.
In 2010, Aisenstat said at a public panel discussion that the gallery had spent six years planning its future at the site across the street from the Sandman Hotel. At the same event, Bartels pointed out that Vancouver doesn’t have a suitable building to feature its world-class talent.
Two of Vancouver’s most famous visual artists, Jeff Wall and Ken Lum, have publicly supported the VAG’s plan. Another celebrated artist, Roy Arden, told the Straight by phone that the report by Rennie and Baxter is “laughable, absurd, [and] idiotic”.
“I did read it this morning,” Arden said. “And I couldn’t dignify it by giving it a serious critique or anything. It’s not worth the energy and the time.”
Former Vancouver director of planning Ray Spaxman, on the other hand, told the Straight by phone that he sees merit in the proposal by Rennie and Baxter. Spaxman noted that there is a great pedestrian thoroughfare along the waterfront, which includes Science World, Granville Island, and several fine restaurants. “It occurs to me that it is appropriate to think of scattering many of our facilities around that walkway,” he stated.
The report claims that “no purpose is served in having the VAG’s storage and back office administration in the downtown core”.
“Decisions about art collections, exhibitions and buildings must reflect VAGS [sic] fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and its civic responsibility to provide for engagement in art, and hence must meet efficiency and effectiveness criteria,” it states.