Bob Rennie condemns Vancouver Art Gallery consultants’ response to his proposal
The Ping-Pong match continues between real-estate marketer Bob Rennie and the Vancouver Art Gallery over the future of one of the city’s premier cultural institutions. On December 18, Rennie and economic forecaster David Baxter wrote a sharply worded 21-page letter to VAG chair Bruce Munro Wright. It criticized a consultants’ response to an earlier report by Rennie and Baxter calling for a radically decentralized VAG instead of a new “big box” gallery on West Georgia Street across from the Sandman Hotel.
“What we got is mainly opinion, speculation and hypotheses,” Rennie and Baxter stated in their letter. “The Response reads not as a thoughtful response to a plausible option, but rather that the assignment was to attack, not to inform about how our proposal compares and contrasts to the big box alternative.”
Earlier this month, Rennie and Baxter released a 22-page paper calling for a new 50,000-square-foot contemporary art gallery. In addition, they recommended four new 12,000-square-foot galleries in other areas of the city and a 40,000-square-foot conceptual-photography gallery underneath the VAG. They estimated this would cost $150 million including a $25-million acquisition budget—half the price of a 300,000-square-foot gallery on West Georgia.
Rennie and Baxter also recommended moving the VAG’s storage and back-office functions away from the downtown art gallery.
VAG officials commissioned Lord Cultural Resources to review Rennie and Baxter’s proposal, which led to some damning criticism (click "downloads"). “Since 1981 we have carried out nearly 2,000 projects in 51 countries and we are very confident to say that there has never been a museum project that separates exhibition from other museum functions nor one that creates so much duplication of display space to the extent proposed for Vancouver,” Barry Lord and Ted Silberberg wrote in their review. “The document lists seven examples (p. 16) of the decentralization of exhibition spaces and of museum systems but none have the level of separation of exhibition spaces from other museum functions proposed and none are comparable to what is being proposed for Vancouver.”
Lord and Silberberg also questioned how Rennie and Baxter did their costing. The consultants claimed that they low-balled their estimate of $425 per net square foot to renovate 80,000 square feet, suggesting it would come closer to $600 per net square foot.
That’s not all. The consultants also stated that the $300-million cost for a new integrated VAG on West Georgia Street is an “all-in figure”. They pointed out that the “multi-use proposal” relies on donations and community amenity contributions, which are required in rezonings. “That is, there is no clear assumption of land acquisition costs other than for the Archive Art facility at $60 per sq. ft. despite an assumption that sites will be on private, commercial land,” Lord and Silberberg wrote.
Rennie and Baxter responded that Lord and Silberberg do not disclose how many square feet would be included in the $300-million building proposed on West Georgia Street. “They never once, in a discussion of art galleries, mention art, the collection, or Vancouver’s communities,” Rennie and Baxter added.
Furthermore, Rennie and Baxter suggested that the consultants were “merely advocates, not independent or objective analysts, seeking only to discredit other points of view rather than evaluate alternative ways that the VAGS [sic] fulfill its role and responsibilities to Vancouver’s communities”.
“If there is not more substantive objective background research available then there is no basis for making any decision about future capital expenditures: if such research actually exists, it should be publicly available,” Rennie and Baxter declared. “The people of Vancouver, by way of the City of Vancouver, are the owners of the collection, the Vancouver Art Gallery Board is its custodian, entrusted with its care and character, and the responsibility to engage the communities of Vancouver in its exhibition.”