Vancouver Art Gallery to provide update on new facility

Plans to build a new facility have been around for more than a decade

The drive for the Vancouver Art Gallery to build a bigger gallery is because the current gallery at Robson Square is too small for its collection | Chung Chow/ BIV files

(UPDATE: Click here to read about the $40 million donation by the Chan family that was announced at the January 23 press conference. The below article appeared the day before the event)

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) plans to provide a public update on the fate of the long-planned new $300-million gallery and $50-million endowment fund, at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia at 10 a.m. on January 23.

A media invitation sent to reporters listed Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, partners from architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, special guests and “representatives from senior levels of government,” as being some of the people on hand.

The indication that representatives from senior levels of government will be at the event may indicate headway on what has been a marathon fund-raising effort to finance the new gallery.

When Business in Vancouver last probed the likelihood of the new gallery, one year ago, the project appeared to be on life support.

The representative for federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi told BIV that his government would only consider a request for funding if it were asked by the provincial government.

B.C.’s minister of tourism, arts and culture, Lisa Beare sent BIV a statement saying that the VAG had to do more fund raising of its own before it could count on $50 million in additional provincial money, and get the province to ask the federal government to open its wallet to pump in $100 million.

“The B.C. government is encouraging the VAG to demonstrate greater private donation support,” she said in January 2018.

“The current funding request must be considered within the context of other pressing government priorities across all sectors, with the aim of making life more affordable for British Columbians. These priorities include taking action to increase affordable housing, addressing the Lower Mainland’s rapid transit infrastructure and creating affordable child care for B.C. families.”

One year ago, Aritzia Inc. founder and CEO Brian Hill and his wife, Andrea Hill, were the latest private benefactors keen to see a large new art gallery in downtown Vancouver. They agreed to donate $5 million to help VAG build its planned 310,000-square-foot wooden building on the southern two-thirds of the block bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and West Georgia streets.

Together with a $1.5 million commitment from BMO Financial Group and a $1 million pledge from TD Bank Financial Group, the VAG one year ago told BIV that it had raised $40 million in private donations.

That is a fraction of the $150 million in private donations that it then aimed to raise.

The B.C. government kicked off the VAG’s fundraising efforts in 2008 with a $50 million contribution. Vancouver city council in 2013 then agreed to give the VAG a 99-year lease on its desired site, which is known as Larwill Park, even though it houses a parking lot. That site was valued at $100 million at the time.

The city’s plan was to keep the northern third of Larwill Park and find a developer interested in building an office tower on that land.

In exchange, the city required that the VAG raise $100 million from the federal government and a second $50 million from the provincial government by spring 2015 – a deadline that was later extended until the end of 2018.

In 2015, the VAG unveiled architectural renderings from Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and local partners Perkins+Will.

The $300-million price tag for the project has not been increased to account for inflation. Sometimes the gallery is described as being valued at $350 million, but that includes a related $50-million endowment fund.