A couple weeks ago, I received an e-newsletter announcement from the City declaring their support for a brand new art gallery on “two acres of the City-owned site at 688 Cambie, formerly known as Larwill Park.” Since then, it’s been all over the local news. I received a second e-letter from the Mayor on April 25th to further convince me of the benefits of a new art gallery.
The debate over whether or not the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) should move from its current beautiful historic building in the centre of the city has been going on for some time. There have been innovative proposals from our city’s eminent architects that have redesigned and expanded the current site. One of those architects, Bing Thom, was very vocal about his displeasure. But when it looked like that battle was lost, he proposed a dynamic plan for the current site that includes a concert hall and underground arts venue that stretches underneath the art gallery plaza. Others have suggested that VAG set up satellite galleries to show some of the collections that never see the light of day due to lack of exhibition space.
As with the backing of the SkyTrain extension to UBC, I am mystified by the City’s decision on this proposal. There are several perfectly good solutions that would keep the art gallery where it is. Who wouldn’t want to be in the heart of the city, in an already iconic building, where people already gather? I was a member of VAG (until they raised their memberships by $25 in one swoop), and used to pop in when I was downtown. Now it will not only be unaffordable for me, but less accessible because it is out of the way.
So once again I ask myself, who is benefitting from this development? The information I’ve received is a little vague. The Mayor says this “is a huge opportunity to bolster our creative sector, showcase local artists from Vancouver and across BC, and make a clear statement that Vancouver makes arts and culture a priority. We’ve done a lot of work to support the arts in recent years, but this has the potential to really elevate our creative economy to the next level.”
A lot of small arts groups are still really struggling since the 2008 economic downturn when the province and the feds cut funding to non-profits. I’m not sure this is really about promoting the arts at all. Sure it’s about developing the economy, but I suspect it won’t be the bottom lines of small arts and culture groups that will be enriched.