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News / February 3, 2014

MAC Montreal Expansion Gains Momentum

A view of Place des Arts in Montreal with the Musée d'art contemporain at left. Photo: Jean Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons. A view of Place des Arts in Montreal with the Musée d'art contemporain at left. Photo: Jean Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s plan to double its exhibition space gained momentum with a show of goodwill on the part of the Quebec government.

Quebec premier Pauline Marois, culture and communications minister Maka Kotto, and international relations minister Jean-Francois Lisée all voiced their support for the expansion at a press conference earlier today.

At the event, Marois announced $550,000 of provincial funding to refine the budget, scope and process of the expansion in the next few months.

Though this $550,000 is small in relation to the projected $44 million that will be needed for the expansion, MAC Montreal director John Zeppetelli is optimistic that the provincial government will eventually fund nearly half of the entire expansion. (La Presse reported that the provincial government would commit $18.5 million, but neither the government nor the museum confirmed that number to Canadian Art.)

“[The event today] was very important for us because it confirms the Quebec government’s commitment and willingness towards this project,” Zeppetelli tells Canadian Art. “We have the green light to proceed.”

Zeppetelli says that the plan is to double the exhibition space of the museum while at the same time keeping the museum to its existing footprint. As a result, he says, it’s possible that existing storage spaces on-site would be converted to galleries. Vertical expansion is another option.

“Something the architects or designers will have to think about is how to make the place more welcoming, less of a fortress,” Zeppetelli says. “It would be great to have our own 200-seat auditorium where we could do events and educational activities. And we want to reconfigure our whole contact with the street.”

An expanded café and bookstore are also on the wish list for Zeppetelli, but he notes many stakeholders are to be involved in any renovation or expansion. The museum is actually an arm of the provincial government, and it leases its land from Place des Arts, which is also home to concert halls and shops. The museum is also located in the Quartier des Spectacles, which is home to the Montreal Jazz Festival and other large-scale events.

“The idea is to create a richer, more varied experience for the visitors so that when you pay your 12 or 14 dollars, you have not just two exhibitions, you have much more of the collection on display,” Zeppetelli says, pointing to MAC holdings by Bill Viola and Ann Hamilton—“great pieces” that currently “languish in warehouses.” The museum has nearly 7,600 works in its collection.

The expansion plans of the MAC have not been without controversy. Previous MAC director Paulette Gagnon put forth an $88-million expansion plan in 2011. After Gagnon left in 2013—along with two other key staffers—Taillefer said he intended to do the expansion for half the cost, or less.

Museum officials say that Taillefer will soon launch a campaign to privately raise $7 million for the MAC Montreal expansion.

In terms of other next steps, Zeppetelli says, the museum must present a case for the expansion to the provincial treasury. Once it provides its approval, a search for architects will begin.

Zeppetelli hopes to have the expansion done by “late 2017” to coincide with Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via