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May we suggest

News / March 19, 2014

Old Calgary Planetarium May Become Art Gallery

Calgary’s old planetarium—originally opened in 1967 as a centennial project and abandoned in 2011 for a new science centre building—may become a contemporary art gallery.

This month, the City of Calgary announced that Contemporary Calgary—a new entity that recently merged MOCA Calgary, the Art Gallery of Calgary and Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art—is the highest rated candidate for its planetarium redevelopment plan.

“The vision has been for more than a couple of decades that Calgary would have a major destination contemporary art gallery,” says Contemporary Calgary interim managing director Terry Rock. Now, he argues, the downtown-west planetarium offers a chance to make that happen.

The next hurdle, Rock says, is to work with the city to review the proposal’s viability.

During the original proposal process, Rock says, his group had only “about two hours to look around the building.” Therefore, “getting back in, seeing what is there and envisioning the possibilities is really the next step.”

Currently, Contemporary Calgary is holding exhibitions in two spaces: the old MOCA Calgary space adjacent to City Hall, which is owned by the city, and the old Art Gallery of Calgary building on the Stephen Avenue Mall, which is owned by Contemporary Calgary.

Rock said he couldn’t confirm at this time whether Contemporary Calgary would keep these two existing spaces open if a planetarium gallery went forward.

“There’s a number of different ways we could approach the project,” Rock says. “We are in very early stages.”

(According to the Calgary Herald, the old planetarium is 56,000 square feet. By contrast, the old Art Gallery of Calgary, situated in a heritage building, advertised 6,000 square feet of exhibition space, while MOCA Calgary has been estimated at under 3,000 square feet of exhibition space.)

Yet a clear part of the plan, even at this early stage, is the need for fundraising. Though Rock wouldn’t commit to an estimated budget for revamping the planetarium, he says the proposed project would be seeking support both at home and afield.

“We’re really going to be looking for the support of the community to help make this a reality,” Rock says. “We think most of the support will be local, but we also think that Calgary is important in the national context and that hopefully people will see their way to being part of this.”

Rock pointed out that in addition to serving 1.15 million locals, the proposed contemporary art gallery would serve tourists as well. In 2010, tourism in Calgary was estimated at 5.1 million visitors.

Other suggestions that came up during the city’s research process for the planetarium included turning the building into a farmer’s market with restaurants and shops.

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