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Potential site for the new home of the Vancouver Art Gallery at the corner of Cambie and West Georgia streets in Vancouver. The gallery rejected the province's very public offering of a property in the False Creek. (Simon Hayter for The Globe and Mail)
Potential site for the new home of the Vancouver Art Gallery at the corner of Cambie and West Georgia streets in Vancouver. The gallery rejected the province's very public offering of a property in the False Creek. (Simon Hayter for The Globe and Mail)

Gallery should stay put, advocates say Add to ...

Moving the Vancouver Art Gallery would empty out the heart of the city, make no economic sense, and do nothing to improve the situation for art, say a chorus of advocates from arts and urban-planning circles.

"The Olympics have proven that the gallery has the best site in Canada. It's the perfect location," said architect Bing Thom, who says there is a group, including former board members, coming together to advocate that the gallery stay where it is.

That response comes in the wake of news Thursday that the gallery has abandoned plans to move to False Creek, but is still pushing to build something double the current size on the empty lot across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. That comes in the wake of a hugely successful couple of weeks during the Olympics, when 100,000 people visited.

"There's a whole bunch of us in town wanting to say the business case for the move is not convincing," Mr. Thom said. "The feeling is that we have a small number of people on an ego trip, wanting to do a Bilbao" - referring to the attention-grabbing Guggenheim Museum built by Frank Gehry in Spain.

Mr. Thom said moving the gallery makes no sense from a city-building perspective. "We don't want to hollow out the centre of city. Vancouver is strong at the edges, near the water, but we desperately need something at the centre. The art gallery is the visible symbol of our culture and it should be at the heart."









The idea of moving to a new site emerged when the gallery's current director, Kathleen Bartels, took over in 2001.

Mr. Thom, along with others, thinks that doubling the size of a gallery that is barely making it financially is impractical. They believe the more reasonable route is to expand it by 50 per cent and to create new space under the plaza that sits between the gallery and Georgia Street. They also say the gallery should concentrate on improving its collection, not building an expensive box designed by an expensive international architect.

A former manager at the gallery also says the VAG doesn't have a good enough collection to warrant moving to a bigger facility. Ms. Bartels has argued that the current gallery, with about 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, only allows the gallery to show 3 per cent of its collection at a time.

But, says Chris Wootten, the associate director from 2001-2005, said "the collection is mediocre."Mr. Wootten also notes that the gallery has been running at a deficit the last two years. "It's a tight business. Where is the VAG going to have the money to pay to maintain twice the square footage?"

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