Vancouver Art Gallery one step closer to new building after ground awakening ceremony

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      “Finally we’re here!” David Calabrigo says to the crowd—which immediately erupts into cheers and applause.

      It’s the ground awakening ceremony for the new Vancouver Art Gallery at 181 Georgia Street, and some of the city’s most important players in art, philanthropy, culture, and politics have gathered under an open-air tent to commemorate the day.

      Calabrigo, the gallery’s board chair, says the new space will be “a place to listen—because when you listen, you learn. And when you learn, you understand.”

      The ceremony begins with representatives of Squamish Nation performing two opening songs, one of which signifies a cleansing of negative energy. It continues with a land acknowledgement by Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph: the gallery’s first elder-in-residence.

      “Our hands are up to everyone who has contributed to this building,” Joseph says. “For myself personally, it represents reconciliation.”

      The new gallery, which will officially be called the Vancouver Art Gallery at the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts, is being designed by famed Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. Thanks to the announcement today of a $5 million donation from the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, the organization has now raised $340 million of its $400 million goal.

      It’s an ambitious project, but one that Vancouver adamantly deserves. The current gallery, which is located in a former courthouse, struggles to not only display, but also store, all of the pieces in its collection—let alone bring in rotating guests. A purpose-built space, without question, will help put Vancouver on the map as a leading supporter of (and trailblazer in) visual art.

      “I cannot reinforce how important this day is for us,” says Vancouver Art Gallery CEO and executive director Anthony Kiendl. Which proves true for multiple reasons, thanks to the announcement that the gallery has acquired a collection of masks by the late, great Kwakwaka'wakw Northwest Coast artist and Chief Beau Dick—whose family and community members then perform a moving selection of songs.

      “Art is a way to give voice to Coast Salish Culture,” says BC Premier David Eby to the crowd. “It’s the responsibility of government to recognize the full human experience, which includes sport and art and culture.” He goes on to joke that his two young kids are budding artists themselves, with his daughter exploring motifs of hearts and rainbows, and his son digging into themes of “war and peace” via lasers.

      BC Premier David Eby speaking at the Vancouver Art Gallery ground awakening ceremony.
      Photo by Sara Harowitz.

      The only cringe moment comes when Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, who pauses his speech to wait for an ambulance to pass, starts humming the Jeopardy! theme song.

      But it does not dampen the palpable energy among the gathered folks—who include everyone from the revered philanthropist Michael Audain to the celebrated artist Ian Wallace. This is really only the very start of this next chapter for the gallery, with a date of construction still yet to be announced (and a cool $60 million still to raise). In any event, whenever it does get going, the city will be ready.