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.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
Charles Carroll
The only good thing about this proposal is the operating grant proposal with an acquisitions budget. Build a mini-Metropolitan with a permanent collection of worldwide art, put it in a spectacular classical building (like a Greek temple), and be done with it.
Rating: -11
Flex Neck
Bob Rennie is so blatantly self serving its sad. So he wants to market some rental condos on city land, "making money forever" and in one fell swoop install himself with 25million in funding to buy art he likes. Oh, and ofcourse, the administration of the single proper public gallery of this city is supposed to move somewhere cheap - but himself, he built himself his private fortress and gallery (only viewable by appointment) out of the gutted carcass of one of Chinatowns oldest buildings - downtown.
Rating: +10
Valerie Pugh
The VAG (in the post office location) will be one of the jewels in a string of public buildings that define the cultural landscape of Vancouver. To break the VAG diamond into bits will destroy its value and lustre.
Rating: -2
Pavlik Stooshnoff
It is interesting to hear "it is critical to hear from those working in the visual arts" since the VAG has never considered local artists worthy unless fostered by a tiny group of gallery and artistic elitists. There has never been any relationship between vancouver galleries and vancouver artists (but for the few, all from one or two galleries selected) and the VAG. Over the years I have seen a huge amount of expertise and talent thrown aside and ignored with cronyism and nepotism installed in its place. The VAG is more like a bunch of rich friends trying to impress each other and ignoring some truly brilliant local talent that have all but been physically kicked in the ass by the VAG. It is commonly understood that a number of very good ideas have been presented to the VAG and a few of them could have generated several more million dollars in revenue and further involvement with local artists and have been rejected largely because the "status Quo" is the most important thing going on there and any new and fresh idea are viewed as threats to their status. The VAG only works with a select few galleries and thumbs their noses up to all the others (a very sizeable community which long ago stopped trying to contribute anything to the VAG because of their constant rejection of everything that didn't fit into their form of "fine art"). I believe Mr Rennie's idea to be brilliant (or another would have been to build a skywalk over to at least 25-50,000 square feet in the old Sears building costing less than 300 million dollars) but the fact is the politics and safeguards preserving the status Quo are so entrenched in this community I'm afraid any good idea will be rejected and the self aggrandizing proposal of the current director will likely win out. There are so many talented people in this city that have been burned and insulted by the VAG and its policies that I doubt if there ever will be any productive bridge between the talent of the city and the politics as usual of the VAG. So this statement of "hearing from the artists" is simply a useful political statement that has no meaning other than preserving the status Quo.
Rating: -11
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Diversity and Plurality: The Public's Art on Exhibition in Vancouver report by Bob Rennie and David Baxter

PDF (1.18 MB)