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News / April 18, 2013

VAG Clears Hurdle for Move & Expansion Plans

The Vancouver Art Gallery, photographed from the corner of Robson and Howe / photo by Jason Vanderhill via Wikimedia The Vancouver Art Gallery, photographed from the corner of Robson and Howe / photo by Jason Vanderhill via Wikimedia

The Vancouver Art Gallery has received an initial go-ahead from the City of Vancouver for a long-proposed move to 688 Cambie Street, currently a parking lot, in Vancouver.

A city staff report released Wednesday recommends 1.8 acres of land at that site be dedicated for a new purpose-built facility for the gallery—provided the VAG can come up with the majority of the project’s funding within two years, by April 30, 2015. The report still needs to be approved by council next week.

The gallery’s hope is that a new building on Cambie would allow it to more than double its square footage and created dedicated education spaces, as well as more room for the permanent collection and emerging artists’ works.

“We don’t even have an auditorium or a lecture hall [at the moment],” VAG director Kathleen Bartels said in an interview with Canadian Art. “So when we have 300 people turn up for a lecture by Ken Lum, we have to turn them away.”

Estimates of the amount of money to be raised by the 2015 deadline range from $150 million (CBC News) to $262 million (the Province), depending on whether one includes government funding alongside the private monies that would need to be raised.

Bartels said that the fundraising campaign will be nationwide and that she has already received calls from supporters outside of BC asking how they can help.

“I just want people to know this is Vancouver’s moment,” Bartels. “We have such a rich artistic community here and our artists and art community deserves something like this, so we are thrilled we can take a leadership role in moving this forward.”

Though a few other Vancouverites put forward alternative plans for the VAG’s future—including collector and developer Bob Rennie, who suggested spreading the gallery out over several sites—the VAG’s proposal to move to Cambie was supported by a number of prominent artists.

In December, Brian Jungen, Roy Arden and Stephen Waddell helped create a new VAG artist advisory group advocating for the expansion, and for the last number of months a group called Visual Arts Professionals in favour of a new Vancouver Art Gallery amassed a petition of nearly 300 names in support of a new standalone building. Its petition was signed by Jeff Wall, Greg Girard and Douglas Coupland, among others.

“Many people in the city, including most of the artists and critics, curators, dealers and other supporters, have been behind this project from the start, and I’m very happy that our mayor shares this vision,” Jeff Wall said in a gallery press release. “A new Vancouver Art Gallery building will have a tremendous positive effect in the city and will confirm the view from outside that Vancouver is a significant contemporary art centre.”

Bartels said she expects the council vote on the city report’s recommendations to happen April 24 or 25.

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