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News / May 1, 2014

Presentation House Moves on New North Van Gallery

On Tuesday, April 29, North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery cleared another step towards constructing a new waterfront building as city council gave it the go-ahead to proceed into re-zoning.

“Everybody felt that was a critical decision,” says Reid Shier, director and curator of the gallery, who recently launched a new website for the building project as well.

Shier says that despite his team’s best efforts, it is clear to both the city and the gallery’s users the current PHG space is unfit—and has been for more than 50 years.

“It is, like, one of the most run-down buildings you’ve ever seen,” Shier says. “I have a lovely quote that we are using for support, from an architectural firm in the 1930s who was looking at [our current building]. They said there was not a straight line in the whole building and we strongly recommend you put no more resources into this whatsoever.”

The current PHG structure was built in 1902 as a girls’ school then converted in a city hall for North Vancouver. It was also a police station and at one point “almost burned to the ground” before being renovated into Presentation House Cultural Centre, opened to the public in 1976 by Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

“It has served us well; it is long past its due date,” Reid says.

In its place, PHG has proposed a new 19,000-square-foot building on the North Vancouver waterfront, designed by Vancouver’s own Patkau Architects, that includes expanded space for galleries, preparation work area, and an event and lecture space.

While many factors have converged to bring the new building slowly to fruition—including the interest of North Van city council in developing the waterfront into a community space, and the fact that a local dry dock tenant decided they no longer wanted the land—there is considerable pressure on fundraising for this and other cultural-building projects in the region at the moment.

Presentation House Gallery will receive $2.5 million from the city for the project, but it needs to raise $12.5 million more to make the new building a reality—and at the same time, the Globe estimates that the Vancouver Art Gallery needs to raise an estimated $350-million for its own new building. Emily Carr University of Art and Design is also in the process of building a new campus.

“There has been a long period of institutional decline in Vancouver [in terms of infrastructure] where institutions and theatres have disappeared, and I think there’s an appetite to see something constructive done at the city level now,” Shier says.

For its own part, once the building is completed and opened, PHG will be pursuing more aggressive revenue-generation strategies, including an expanded educational program (which will have a devoted space) and an event-rental program. The gallery, which now has an admission by donation policy, will also have a mandatory admission fee of $5 for adults and $3 for seniors. The new building will still be free for youth and children to visit.

The city requested “a business plan that would show operations sustainability,” Shier explains, “so a big part of the plan is finding those sources of operational revenue.”

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.