Skip to main content

A man sits on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as the sun sets, November 19, 2013.ANDY CLARK/Reuters

Vancouver's mayor is warning that the Vancouver Art Gallery's glittering plans for a new facility may not proceed as quickly as anticipated, saying it looks like it will be "very difficult" for the VAG to meet the fundraising timeline set out by city council.

Earlier this month, the gallery announced a shortlist of five architecture firms bidding to build the new facility on the site known as Larwill Park. But the city requires the gallery to raise $150-million in additional provincial and federal funding for the project by the end of April, 2015.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said in an interview he is optimistic the VAG will get there "eventually," but that meeting the deadline may be tough. And indications from the federal government are even less encouraging.

"The timelines now look very difficult, given the signals sent by Victoria and Ottawa. There's no good news in the near term with funding," Mr. Robertson told The Globe and Mail during a wide-ranging interview about arts and culture this week.

The city's conditions state that the VAG needs to raise $100-million from Ottawa, and an additional $50-million from the province, which has already contributed $50-million.

Federal Heritage Minister Shelly Glover was unavailable for an interview on Thursday, but a statement from her office said: "The project is too expensive."

"The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, which supports projects which improve physical conditions for professional artistic creativity, presentation and exhibition, has an annual budget of approximately $30-million for all regions of the country. A request of $100-million for a new building greatly exceeds the scale of the CCSF. Minister [of Industry] James Moore has spoken clearly on this issue in the past and our government's position hasn't changed on it," wrote Mike Storeshaw, Ms. Glover's director of communications.

Last April, a spokesperson for Mr. Moore, then the heritage minister, told The Globe "at this time, a multimillion-dollar funding commitment is not something our government can afford."

The province has also sent signals that $50-million may not be forthcoming from Victoria.

In an interview last summer, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes (who was unavailable for an interview on Thursday) said the government had many priorities. "We can't do it all."

When asked about the issue at an announcement at the VAG last October, Premier Christy Clark focused on the funding granted in 2008 by premier Gordon Campbell. "I'm quite confident that the art gallery will be able to fundraise the rest of the money and find the rest of the money to be able to support this fantastic project."

The city has indicated willingness to allow the project to proceed should the $150-million instead come from the private sector. If the VAG fails to meet the April, 2015, deadline, the mayor said the issue would go back to council. (With the election this fall, it will be a new council.)

"VAG will state their case … and council will need to decide what to do next with the two acres at Larwill Park, and whether there's potential for that proposal and an extension is in order, or the situation's more dire," Mr. Robertson said. "I'm optimistic we'll see this happen in the medium term, but it's a huge project and it needs a lot more support, obviously, from the province and the feds."

VAG director Kathleen Bartels and board chair Bruce Munro Wright were out of the country on Thursday, and unavailable to comment. But they have expressed optimism about raising the funds, in particular once an architect, design and capital campaign are in place.