CUPE Local 15 asks for Vancouver Art Gallery's business plan

The head of the union representing about 80 employees of the Vancouver Art Gallery is calling on the institution to reveal details of its plan to address its $886,000 operating deficit.

Paul Faoro, president of CUPE Local 15, said he and his members were surprised to learn of the gallery’s finances at its September 29 annual general meeting. “We were very shocked to find out about the deficit,” he said. “There were no earlier discussions about the financial situation, so I was obviously troubled when we heard the news.”

According to the gallery’s annual report, admissions revenues went down by almost $1 million from 2010 to 2011, from $2.55 million to $1.57 million. Kathleen Bartels, the VAG’s director, attributed the decline to a number of factors. “In the previous fiscal year, which was the fiscal year ’09-10, we had our highest year in attendance in the gallery’s history, and that had to do with our programming,” she said. “It was an Olympic year and we were able to do much more enhanced programming, both inside the gallery and outside, so that made a difference.”

Since then, said Bartels, the gallery has been affected by the decline in provincial arts funding and the global economic downturn. “Tourism is down to Vancouver and to British Columbia overall,” she noted. “U.S. tourists have been a big part of the gallery’s draw, particularly in the summer period, and that’s been down significantly.”

Despite the gallery’s current financial squeeze, Bartels said she does not anticipate any layoffs and confirmed that the VAG will continue to push forward with its plans for a new, larger gallery. “We have an obligation to look to the long term, not just the short term,” she insisted. “I think it’s critically important for the gallery, being such an important institution in the province, but also very important for the city and province, that we keep looking forward.”

Faoro, who has previously called for greater transparency surrounding manager and executive pay at the VAG, said he wants to see the gallery’s business plan. “We need to be looking forward and saying, ‘What is the plan to ensure financial stability moving forward?’…If the gallery’s still talking about this new building, I don’t want to have a brand-new art gallery if we can’t staff it and no one from the public is going to be able to afford to go to it.”

But Bartels declined to provide any details. “It’s something I’m dealing with with the board,” she said, adding that the gallery seems to be recovering financially. “We’re really very pleased, because in the first three months of the fiscal year we’re tracking very consistently with our budgeted projections,” she said.