Cost for Vancouver Art Gallery replacement pegged at $350 million

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      Vancouver Art Gallery officials estimate it will cost $350 million to realize their plan for a new downtown location on a prime piece of city-owned property.

      “At this point we don’t have an architect or a site yet, but when you look at institutions from around the world that is the rate that we’re looking at,” gallery director Kathleen Bartels told reporters today (April 28).

      During a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon this afternoon, gallery officials presented their case for building a new home on an open lot across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

      They argue a replacement is needed because the courthouse building on Robson Street no longer meets the gallery’s needs. The gallery board wants a larger space for exhibits, public and educational programs, as well as a growing art collection.

      But the City of Vancouver has not yet made a decision on allowing construction of a new gallery on the site, which was formerly a bus depot.

      City of Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal told the Straight by phone that the gallery has not yet presented a detailed proposal for use of the site.

      “I do think they make a compelling case for needing a new facility. There’s a wide range of public opinion on that, but they’ve certainly made the case very well that they do need a new building,” she said.

      During the board of trade presentation, gallery board chair Michael Audain noted the province has offered $50 million toward a replacement building and unnamed donors have promised another $40 million.

      “It’s very difficult to say exactly how much the new building is going to cost because we don’t have a design for it yet,” he said, although he estimated the price tag could reach $350 million.

      Fundraising efforts would target public and private donors and the federal government, he said.

      Some critics argue the Robson Street gallery could simply be expanded underground. But Audain responded that the costs are too high and the gallery would have to close for two years.

      While the presentation did not reveal many details on what the new gallery could look like, Bartels said the idea is to create a “landmark building” in the spirit of the great art institutions found in London, Paris and Barcelona.

      David Aisenstat, gallery board chair, added that public support for the new gallery should persuade the city to support construction on the Dunsmuir Street site.

      “Once that happens then we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do,” he said.



      Interested artist

      Apr 28, 2010 at 7:44pm

      I would like to know what this positive public opinion is that they are speaking of. I remember the exact opposite when this story first broke. Interesting spin they seem to be putting on this.


      Apr 28, 2010 at 9:40pm

      I now understand why the VAG uses its existing space so inefficiently and displays its better pieces so infrequently. It provides the 'proof' that they need new digs.
      There is a cheaper alternative: use the empty walls you already have. (Just think how many paintings you could hang in the plastic-chair dinosaur room or the guy-in-the-swamp room.)

      The observer

      Apr 28, 2010 at 10:01pm

      Hmmm...$50m from the province? Let's see, they cut the arts about $15m a year so 4 yrs from now they'll have banked that easily - adjusted for inflation. Course there'll be the extra O&M and cost over-runs but it's still pretty afordable when amortized against the arts cut savings.

      Time to Get Real

      Apr 29, 2010 at 12:59am

      Seems like the "public support" they are talking about is the Board of Trade. These people really need a shake. By making their big splash before the Board of Trade, they make themselves look even more elitist and out of touch which was their problem to begin with. Seems like they really need a new PR firm, one that remembers the P in PR stands for "Public" and for that matter, the R stands for relations.


      Apr 29, 2010 at 8:32am

      Only 300 of 10,000 works can be shown? If showcasing B.C. artists is so important why is the gallery spending a small fortune to bring in works from L.A.? Why did it become a low rent Disneyland during the Olympics? Why is another small fortune being spent to bring in works from London. I smell a shell game.


      May 1, 2010 at 9:56am

      There seems to be a lot of support for restoring arts funding in British Columbia, but what's with the reticence to support the Vancouver Art Gallery? As a member of the Vancouver Art Gallery since 1995, I have enjoyed the benefits of having an institution like the Vancouver Art Gallery in our community. As a resident of the east side of Vancouver, I like the fact that there's a great mix of touring shows from elsewhere and shows developed locally with artists from Canada and British Columbia.

      The gallery at its present location at Robson Square opened in the early 1980s when its art collection was more modest. With approximately 10 000 works in storage, the gallery simply doesn't have any room to display works of arts properly. As for the suggestion of "filling up" the large walls of the second room, the wall is two stories tall. Most works of art consequently would be difficult to examine up close for the average visitor. If a potential benefactor or donor saw these works on display in this manner, many of them would think twice about lending or even donating their works for show to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

      As for their educational programs, I can attest that the education department is stretched. It's difficult for an educator such as myself to book a date and time in order to bring a class over. There simply isn't any room to bring classes into the gallery.

      At this time, when the Da Vinci show closes this weekend, the art gallery will only have one exhibition, "Visceral Bodies" open for the public to see (at least until May 8th). The other three floors will be closed as they ready their next installation. A larger facility would allow more works to be seen without inconveniencing both locals and visitors who want to see art.

      If the Vancouver Art Gallery ever leaves its current location, its current setup allows for yet another cultural institution to set up shop in this marvelous location. There has been talk in the local media and in the community about setting up either a gallery devoted to First Nations and Inuit Art or contemporary Asian art, or even the location of the Canada's National Portrait Gallery which has no home or facility.

      VAG member

      May 2, 2010 at 8:59am

      Emmy, I agree that it's unacceptable that "when the Da Vinci show closes this weekend, the art gallery will only have one exhibition, "Visceral Bodies" open for the public to see (at least until May 8th)." That shows just how badly run the place is, not that it's too small.


      May 2, 2010 at 4:16pm

      Asking for $350 million without so much as a draft of a design seems ridiculous. The VAG should be thrilled with the piece of prime real estate they have right now and just make better use of the space there. Arthur Erickson even suggested expanding the current gallery underground.

      Abel Lennon

      May 14, 2010 at 10:49am

      The VAG is not in my opinion an organization that supports Vancouver artists or the Vancouver cultural community sufficiently to deserve unquestioned Vancouver City support.

      The VAG is, sadly, exceedingly distant from the Vancouver artist community, insufficiently democratic and certainly unprofessional. It is not a vibrant organization, and most disappointingly it is not an organization that is driven by cultural curiosity. I am thoroughly amazed at how unprofessional its core curators are as they have on a number of occasion refused to even see new work by Vancouver artists...It is one thing to be rejected by a programmer or a curator, it is another thing entirely not to even have the opportunity to show the work to the curator as they are not bothering with you.

      The VAG should be pressed on their policy towards local artists, and local culture in general. I would also ask that you enquire about the management, organization and lack of openness of the org. It seems to me that they are wanting much from Vancouver, I just want you to ask them what exactly their plans are — other than going on a monumental building spree.

      Their model should be the CCCB in Barcelona (
      .....the VAG should not be an isolated castle of personalities feeding their own egos...or putting on the mega shows for the Americans, they are woefully behind the times...