Vancouver Art Gallery Relocation

Comments 19 by Rebecca Bollwitt

The Vancouver Art Gallery is icon in our city and was a central hub of activity during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and although the building won’t be going anywhere… it’s what’s inside that counts.

Photo credit: rodefeld on Flickr

A relocation, that would see it move out of the old courthouse building, has been in the works for a few years. The first plan was to build a new facility for the art gallery in North East False Creek to accompany the expanding collection however plans have changed.

The 604 Homes Blog covered the then-approved move in 2008:

New Art Gallery and BC Place Reno“Late last week the City of Vancouver approved the plan to build a brand new art gallery on the site of the old Plaza of Nations. The re-development would also include the a number of new highrise condo buildings, a new retractable roof for BC Place and retail opportunities around a new plaza. Although this area is a bit dead at the moment. I do see the possibilities for this area in the future. It could work as a link between the International Village / Tinseltown area condos and False Creek, especially once Concord Pacific builds its last False Creek towers (in the area that looks like a parking lot to the left (east) in this photo.”

However, that plan became unraveled as Frances Bula explains in her post from 2009:

“As I mentioned in my previous post, there are lots of simmering undercurrents in the city’s attempts to plan Northeast False Creek. One of the biggest is what is happening with the Vancouver Art Gallery. If you’ll recall, Premier Gordon Campbell made the strangest announcement of all time last May when he said the gallery would be relocating to a site near the old Expo Plaza of Nations. That was even though he is 1. not the owner of the land 2. not the director of the art gallery 3. not a city planner or council member. Whatever.

There was an obscure line in the news release saying that the landowner, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, which now owns the Plaza of Nations land, was willing to allow the gallery to move there in return for ‘future development considerations’ from the city. We’ve NEVER had the details on what all of that meant and neither has the city. Staffers to this day will talk about how the announcement came as a ‘total surprise’ to them, even though they were in the midst of allegedly trying to plan this area.”

With the North East False Creek expansion and relocation squashed, the next candidate property is the old bus depot at Cambie and Georgia. There is even a website up to provide information about the proposed move. “We’ve outgrown our Robson Square site and need a new building built specifically for our needs,” states the website.

Vancouver Art Gallery

Reasons to Move the Art Gallery
As listed on the New Van Art Gallery website…

  • Only 3% of our permanent collection is on view at any given time. Our vault is full to overflowing. The Gallery has had to resort to costly off site storage for part of the permanent collection.
  • Line-ups and overcrowding during exhibitions. The Vancouver Art Gallery’s permanent exhibition space is 10 times smaller than the average North American museum.
  • We have no dedicated space for educational and school programs.
  • We have no theatre, lecture hall or gathering space. That means no room for family and adult programs, artist’s talks, lectures and special events.
  • We believe we have a responsibility to look to the future. That means a new, purpose-built Gallery that will serve and excite visitors and residents for decades to come.

To many who live in or visit Vancouver, the Art Gallery is a centrepiece of the downtown core. It’s home to rallies, protests, festivals, entertainment, and steps to sit and people-watch. Originally the city’s courthouse, the building was designed by architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury, who also designed the provincial legislature buildings and the Fairmont Empress in Victoria.

1910s – Archives item#: CVA 789-94

The first Vancouver Art Gallery opened in 1931 at 1145 West Georgia – a property donated by Henry Reifel. In 1945, Emily Carr donated 145 paintings and sketches to the collection. It wasn’t until October 15, 1983 that the Vancouver Art Gallery opened in its current location, in the old courthouse building.

Having lived in its current location for just under 30 years, many are vehemently opposed to having the gallery move outside of its central location downtown. “The City asked people to show their support by contacting council but today’s Globe and Mail reports, they’ve counted only seven emails so far,” says News 1130.

If you have an opinion about the move for the Vancouver Art Gallery the City would really like to know. There is a public forum regarding the proposed move tonight at Robson Square starting at 7:00pm.

19 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Steve Woodall – Vancouver Tour GuyThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 11:26am PDT

    Thanks for spreading the word on this cause. One question for you…in your research, have you found out anything on the plans for the Olympic Countdown Clock? I’ve heard it’s being auctioned off, I’ve heard it’s being relocated, but can’t find any official information anywhere.

  2. Rebecca Bollwitt, Miss604 Miss604Thursday, May 20th, 2010 — 11:27am PDT

    I was actually wondering that the other day when I walked by. If I hear something I’ll definitely add a post about it (or Tweet for sure).

  3. andanotherthingThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 12:25pm PDT

    This is a ridiculous proposal. As it stands, the art gallery is a central part of this city. People meet there, rally there, enjoy the sun on the steps, and hey even check out some art once in a while. Why they want to move to some dead zone, semi-industrial ex-bus barn is beyond me. Way to make art even more inaccessible and irrelevant than it already is.

  4. Robert DallThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 1:48pm PDT

    My concern is not for the art gallery as such more the building and location.

    That has been a place for people to gather in Vancouver for as long as I can remember.

    A place for open conversation, celebration, protest and even a few pillow fights.

    People will follow the art, That I am not concerned about, Look at improves the VPL and more recently CBC have made to that area. I am more concerned about how we are going to create the same feel that area has as the main tenant gave the area such voice for independent though and I certainly would never want to loose that!

  5. Miss KibbleThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 3:20pm PDT

    To gain a new art gallery, do we need to lose the old one?

    Imagine if there were not one but two Vancouver Art Galleries? Each with a different personality and focus like the Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

    We absolutely need a larger and more versatile art gallery, for all of the reasons listed on the VAG’s website and more. It is wonderful to imagine what a West Coast Guggenheim Bilbao at Georgia and Dunsmuir would do for our young city.

    But not only do grand masters hang beautifully within our neoclassical courthouse; contemporary art can spark against the heritage setting in fabulous ways. This building, at the epicentre of Vancouver, has proved itself a much loved home to culture – it should remain one.

    Does it have to be either/or? Think big Vancouver. You are worth it.

  6. Michael PatienceThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 4:13pm PDT

    Some more information here:

  7. Neale AdamsThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 6:04pm PDT

    It shouldn’t be either-or… either the Art Gallery in the Old Courthouse or a new Art Gallery somewhere else.

    It should be both-and… the Art Gallery in the wonderful, central location it is now, at the heart of the city, and – when the VAG grows and becomes the major North American art institution it seems destined to be – a second location somewhere else. (My favourite site would be the Georgia St. Post Office, a massive building, when Canada Post eventually relocates outside the downtown core.)

    The model should be the Tate in London, now in two locations, both superb. The second location, the Tate Modern, is a former powerhouse.

  8. LaurenThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 6:15pm PDT

    Having two galleries is a fantastic idea! That way we keep the venerable location with all of its history and significance, and have a chance to see some new architecture in the city.

    As for the old bus depot, check out how the Musee d’Orsay in Paris was transformed from an old train station into a beautiful art gallery.

  9. jaxThursday, May 20th, 2010 — 6:46pm PDT

    the current gallery is big enough to house travelling exhibits. it should be kept there and our official Vancouver collection housed at a new permanent location.


    now, was that hard?

  10. Jeff MacLeodFriday, May 21st, 2010 — 8:20am PDT

    As the old courthouse will still be around because it’s a heritage building I hope that something good will move into it. I’m actually hoping the the Vancouver Museum moves in.

  11. Rory GylanderFriday, May 21st, 2010 — 1:03pm PDT

    Since I am constantly hearing the same tired argument over and over, it needs to be stressed that should the Vancouver Art Gallery relocate they will not be taking the land it sits on. People will still be able to smoke pot on the steps and pooh in the corners as they do now, no matter who the tenant is.

  12. ColinSunday, May 23rd, 2010 — 8:58pm PDT

    I have to agree with Jeff MacLeod. I think the Museum of Vancouver should have it’s own seperate building. I think in it’s current location at the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre, it is often overlooked by,well, space. Almost hidden. I didn’t even know Vancouver had a city museum up until two years ago when I was at the Space Centre for a function. With the old courthouse, it has that classic “museum” look to it and it is in the centre of the downtown core, a perfect location. I may still be in highschool, but I think my generation needs to start caring about our city’s past because it is often neglected, and even sometimes forgotten.

  13. JessicaFriday, May 28th, 2010 — 8:52pm PDT

    In talking about the architecture or design aspect of the VAG…I disagree with the proposed location of having VAG in False Creek. Having the Art Gallery in False Creek will limit the architecture of the building being designed. If you look at the areas around it… residential buildings, GM Places, BC Place, skytrain, seawall…etc. a powerfully, strong, design of the VAG will look odd in that surrounding. We need some more unique architecture and if the VAG was built in the False Creek area the architecture will overpower its surroundings and take away what False Creek really means to Vancouver. Having the VAG by the QE will definately create a vibe of its own and the surrounding artistic district… not where False Creek should be found.

  14. SarahSunday, June 6th, 2010 — 6:19pm PDT

    Listen to Rory! I am hearing everyday the very small, but very loud minority of Vancouverites who staunchly oppose the move. Don’t worry folks – the building’s not going anywhere! It will be something cultural and the stairs will always be full of pot-smoking protestors.
    The new gallery has the potential to change this city! Work in the gallery for one day and you will discover hundreds of tourists leaving in a huff at not only its high admission price, but the lack of, well you know, art. The most important thing. Imagine a purpose-driven building. Reflecting the West Coast with permanent collections of Emily Carr and other BC artists. It will be a new centre artistic centre for Vancouver. Why is everyone so worried about the change? This city was built on change. Deal with it, get over it and start being positive about seeing MORE ART!

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  16. T-botFriday, June 18th, 2010 — 10:29pm PDT

    Perhaps the solution is found in an old trick from the past. Make the lawyers and judges move! The Arthur Erickson designed Law Courts building is practically attached to the VAG. It is a central location and an architectural landmark designed by one of BC’s most famed architects. Wouldn’t the glass atrium look much more stunning holding statuary instead of crusty old lawyers and judges? That’s 1.3 million square feet of space. As for the law folks? Well, just move them to the top levels of Sears. That’s empty. And no one will miss ’em.

  17. On the via ferrata | ChrisThompson.caThursday, September 23rd, 2010 — 12:35am PDT

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  19. TomFriday, January 7th, 2011 — 4:03am PST

    What people need to understand is that the VAG building itself is falling apart. There are serious problems to the HVAC systems, when it rains there are leaks all over the building. Also the elevators are old and insufficient. The list goes on and on…this is not the 1900’s anymore and the city needs a new building.

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