Public opinion has been somewhat mixed in terms of their sentiments for the current building and lack of knowledge about the reasons why the VAG would want to move. Last week I was given a private tour behind the scenes of the old Court House building where the Vancouver Art Gallery is pretty much bursting at the seams.
When we first started the tour I got a bit of an education about relative humidity and temperature control in the building thanks to Tom Meighan, Director of Operations & Exhibition Production. Apparently they have no chilled water source in the building itself so they needed to route it in from another source downtown in order to get their cooling systems in check. This technical yet crucial element is key in operating a world-class art gallery.
We moved on to the loading bay which is located at the end of a spiraling tunnel that goes under Howe Street. Issues here include big trucks not being able to make it down the outdated ramp, which leads to road closures around the gallery while they try to cart in priceless pieces of art on a dolly. Another issue that concerns Dana Sullivant, Director of Markting & Communications is that fine art arrives through the same door that garbage exists. Trash from the gallery and cafe passes through the same doors as Dali or Monet works.
Meandering our way through an underground hallway filled with empty crates, boxes, and display cases we stopped in to check out the only freight elevator in the entire building. With only one way to get pieces up to the top floor and down, it’s a vital part of gallery operations. They would be unable to expand and build another since the building’s heritage status limits their ability to edit the current structure.
Entering the “vault” was like walking into a dark, overflowing storage room. Located directly beneath the fountain on the front lawn of the art gallery, the space is dangerously exposed in terms of potential leaks that could damage their collections.
Meighan said that in an ideal situation they would have seperate cold storage for each type of art work. One for photography, another for metal objects, sculptures, paintings etc. We walked over to section that contained sliding metal racks upon which hundreds if not thousands of paintings were perched. Some of the works haven’t seen the exhibition space for at least 20 years including some of the Dutch Masters in the photo below.
With a rusted metal screech Meighan pulled out a rack filled with Emily Carr works. When the art gallery first opened Carr donated 145 paintings and the collection has grown ever-since. Unfortunately, most of it hangs below the surface and not in front of visitors.
Once again the ideal situation here would be to have a permanent exhibit for Carr’s work along with other local artist such as Jeff Wall. These would be mainstays of the gallery for all (especially Vancouverites) to enjoy anytime.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” says Sullivant. They have funds, they have the proposed location, and now they just need approval from the City of Vancouver in order to start drafting up plans for a new building. They also need to win over the public. The new location (150 Dunsmuir) would have open public space in order to continue to host community events and be a congregational point for Vancouverites.
So what will happen to the current space? As a heritage building, the Court House will not be torn down in order to make room for condo developments or office towers. I’ve been told UBC and the Museum of Vancouver have already expressed interest and everyone would like to see it continue as a centre for the community, both inside and out.
To learn more, ask questions, or show your support, visit NewVanArtGallery.com. You can read more about the history of the Court House in my previous post about the VAG’s relocation and follow @VanArtGallery on Twitter for updates and news regarding public consultations.