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Contemporary Calgary Begins Constructing Gallery in Old Planetarium

Plans are forging ahead for Contemporary Calgary to move into the city’s old planetarium.

Contemporary Calgary, built from a merger between MOCA Calgary, the Art Gallery of Calgary and the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art, was announced as the lead proponent for use of the planetarium (opened in 1967 before being replaced by a new science centre in 2011) back in spring 2014.

Since this time, the gallery has been working with the city to ensure the viability of the move. “It has been a really foundational year and a half for us,” said Erin O’Connor, Contemporary Calgary’s managing director. “We have an agreement with the city now—the actual relationship is papered, if you will.

“We are working on a short-term lease for Temporary Contemporary, which is the pop-up exhibition space that will happen in the outbuilding (an add-on structure on the north side of the Centennial Planetarium). We will be there for two years until we open in the full building.”

The gallery is hosting a gala on November 7 to raise the $1 million necessary for renovations. Lead donors have already promised $500,000.

The Temporary Contemporary space, a 7,000-square-foot room that will have four movable walls, will present a curatorial challenge, admits O’Connor, but the staff looks forward to the task.

“Temporary Contemporary will show large-scale installations, sculptures, projection mapping, performance-art programming, and, while that is happening, the rest of the building will be under construction,” said O’Connor.

This larger design for the rest of the building will be a collaboration between Contemporary Calgary and the city, who have a tender-and-bid process. In the final building, O’Connor notes that there will be a retail space and a cafe. “We are working on compatible space use and looking at community partners so that we animate the entire building, and fill it with programming that aligns with our mission at all times,” she said.

The announcement of the plans comes shortly after the highly anticipated reveal of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s conceptual design, but the two projects are notably different in scope. Where Contemporary Calgary is focusing on raising $1 million, with a fairly short timeline on completion, the VAG’s price tag will sit closer to $350 million, and it has already been in the works for a decade.

“We have a very practical board,” said O’Connor. “They’re big visionaries, with huge dedication and commitment, but very realistic, especially given the changes to the economy in Calgary right now. We want the vision to be achievable and affordable. Also, we want to have the shortest path (accounting for everything we have control over) to get from blueprint to reality.

“We are moving quickly to make Temporary Contemporary happen so that we can bring a cultural destination to Calgary dedicated to Modern and contemporary art as soon as possible.”

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