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News / April 25, 2019

More on the Plan for a New, $140-Million Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The plan, revealed in recent days, touts a waterfront location and a much-expanded exhibition space
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License.
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Skeezix1000 via Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons License.

More details are emerging of the plan to create a new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

As announced last week and reported in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the plan is to double the space of the gallery to 142,000 square feet. The plan also involves a move to a waterfront location, and to a purpose-built facility. (Since 1988, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has been housed in retrofitted heritage properties bordered by downtown roads on all four sides.)

Overall, it is hoped, according to a government release, that visitation will roughly double from 64,000 to 120,000 annually once the new building and move into it is complete.

Initial government releases assessed costs at around $130 million, though the CBC reported it could rise to $140 million. A release stated the federal government will contribute up to $30 million and that the the provincial government will cover at least $70 million. It is projected that the AGNS would raise $30 million through a capital campaign. AGNS CEO Nancy Noble told the Chronicle-Herald that she expects the municipal government to also make a contribution towards the gallery costs, and that construction will begin in 2020.

Though the announcement is a welcome one for many—Premier Stephen McNeil indicated that “The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia benefits us all and we look forward to its expanded presence in its new home”—there have already been some hiccups along the way, and more possibly in future.

In March 2018, when the prospect of a new gallery on the waterfront was announced, NSCAD University was also to be part of a cultural “hub” with the gallery. In June 2018, NSCAD and government sources announced a contract was awarded to develop a business case for the plan.

But when this announcement was made about the new AGNS in April 2019, Halifax Chronicle-Herald reporters were told by the premier that “NSCAD wasn’t ready at this time to continue, but that conversation is ongoing.” NSCAD is recently entered a labour arbitration process with a faculty union following a strike, and the university already has a waterfront campus further south on the Halifax coastline.

Another item of concern might be attendance projections. Can a doubling of visitorship really be in the cards when the new, proposed gallery is just a few blocks, and roughly 8 minutes’ walk away, from the old gallery location?

The gallery says yes: “The Halifax waterfront is a gathering place for all Nova Scotians and visitors to the province,” says an email from the AGNS to Canadian Art. “With a new gallery located on this busy hub, we expect our visitation to increase to over 120,000 annually.”

Recent news about rising sea levels in Halifax due to climate change might also be a question for those wondering about how the province’s art collection could be impacted by a waterfront location.

Just before the new AGNS plans were announced last week, the federal Environment and Climate Change Ministry released a new report about rising sea levels in Canada. It indicated that sea levels will rise in Nova Scotia and other parts of Atlantic Canada higher than the global average. A recent National Observer report indicated that sea levels could rise along the Halifax waterfront as much as 20 centimetres by mid-century. The Chronicle-Herald reports that “Nova Scotia sea levels will rise upwards of a metre by the year 2100 compared with a century earlier, a rise that will be consistent from Cape Breton to Yarmouth to Halifax Regional Municipality and all points in between.”

When asked about the potential impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the AGNS collection, a gallery spokesperson indicated they are considering the matter.

“Safeguarding the provincial collection is our number one priority as we plan for a new building on the Halifax waterfront,” said the spokesperson. “Some of the details related to storage are still being finalized but our hope is to have both onsite and offsite storage.”

The 2014 municipal planning strategy for the Halifax Regional Municipality requires a vertical buffer for building along coastal areas due to coastline rise, the Chronicle-Herald reports. But that buffer only applies to new residential dwellings, not commercial buildings.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is news and special sections editor at Canadian Art. She has also written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. She welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.