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News / January 24, 2019

Vancouver Art Gallery Gets $40 Mil for New Building

This Chan family gift is the largest-ever single private donation to an arts and culture organization in BC—and it brings the Herzog & de Meuron design closer to reality
A rendering of the future Vancouver Art Gallery gallery courtyard entrance. © Herzog & de Meuron. A rendering of the future Vancouver Art Gallery gallery courtyard entrance. © Herzog & de Meuron.

Many have been uncertain for some time as to whether the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new 300,000-square-foot building project, whose designs were announced with fanfare in 2015, would be moving forward. Just two weeks ago, the Globe and Mail ran an article by West Coast arts reporter Marsha Lederman expressing doubt in that direction.

But as of yesterday, the project is appears to be on firmer footing. The VAG board member Christian Chan—also founder of the Burrard Arts Foundation and executive vice-president of the Burrard Group of real-estate developers—announced that his family has promised to donate $40 million to a new gallery building.

This Chan family gift is the largest-ever single private donation to an arts and culture organization in BC—even larger than the $10 million the family gifted to UBC in the 1990s for a new performing arts centre. And this gift also promises to turn the tide of local criticism and stalled funding that have slowed the new building project in recent years.

“Gifts like this change momentum,” gallery director Kathleen Bartels tells Canadian Art. “Now, we’re at 80 per cent or more to meeting our $100 million capital campaign goal.  That’s pretty significant. And we haven’t even started the public phase of the campaign—now we are getting ready to go to a much broader community, expanding our circle of support, and this gives us more energy to keep pushing forward.”

Bartels says other major gifts are already in development, to be announced in coming months. And the press material for the event also made pains to note 14 pre-existing private gifts in the $1 million-to-$5 million range. The latter include donations from David Aisenstadt, president and CEO of the Keg; the Diamond Foundation, funded by the Diamond family of West Coast Reduction; Andrea Thomas Hill and Brian Hill, founder and CEO of Aritzia; and Phil Lind, Vice-Chair of Rogers.

“What is required next is for our government partners to step forward,” Bartels says. “The provincial government made it very clear they wanted us to raise more private-sector money, and that we had to reach the $70-million threshold.” Now that the VAG is past that threshold, Bartels says the hope is for public funding to break down in the following fashion: $50 million-plus from the city, in the form of the land the municipality is providing at Larwill Park; $100-million from the province, in the form of $50 million already provided in 2008 and another $50 million now being requested; and $100 million from the federal government.

It has certainly not been an easy road for the new gallery project. Prominent Vancouver collector and condo marketer Bob Rennie, who runs his own private art museum and is on the board of trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been repeatedly vocal in criticism of the new building effort.

Longtime Vancouver Art Gallery foundation chair Michael Audain decided to create his own art museum in nearby Whistler and left the foundation soon after the new design was launched.

There has also been much concern in the community about Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron’s choice of wood as exterior cladding and how that might weather in west-coast conditions. Not to mention the fact that the City of Vancouver says it still needs the gallery to reach a $150-million fundraising goal by December 31, 2019, in order to secure its site.

But yesterday’s announcement—which also included Herzog & de Meuron offering a refreshed design in which exterior wood cladding is covered with glass tubes—does indicate that the gallery hasn’t given up on its new-building goal. And also, perhaps, that it doesn’t need to please everyone (or even some of the most prominent Vancouver art collectors around) in order to succeed.

“I don’t care where you live—in any city, for any project, fundraising is always a matter where you have to take the long view,” Bartels says when asked about challenges to the project. “Fundraising is always challenging, no matter what. But we as board and staff have never been daunted with the money not coming as quickly as the public wanted it to…. We’re feeling, and have always felt, very optimistic, and especially with this unparalleled gift to the arts in BC, the wind is now behind us.”

The new facility, with its central building called the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts, is now projected to open in 2023, with an overall budget in the $350-million range.

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.