Art Gallery of Greater Victoria director Jon Tupper: ‘It’s a beautiful location. It’s unique – we’re in a residential neighbourhood – it’s strange but strange in a positive way.’

Victoria art gallery eyes expansion

Board of directors decides to keep facility at its Moss Street location

A Victoria institution will root in its historic site on Moss Street, after three decades of seeking space downtown.

“We’ve been looking 33 years for a place downtown,” said Jon Tupper, director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.  “If it didn’t happen in the last 30 years, it’s not going to happen in the next 10 years.”

Spencer Mansion was donated by Sarah Spencer in 1951. Today the site includes several adjacent galleries.

“It’s a beautiful building, and they have built on the modern additions, so what we need to do is build on that and make it better,” said Joan Huzar, member of the Associates of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which promotes and fundraises for the gallery.

After a feasibility study, architects said it would be unlikely to create the necessary space within the existing structure.

“If we had an extra 10,000 square feet we could stay here another 10 years and maybe longer,” Tupper said. “It’s a beautiful location. It’s unique – we’re in a residential neighbourhood – it’s strange but strange in a positive way.”

The gallery at 1040 Moss St. is removed from the bustle of downtown, but the director, volunteers and Tourism Victoria don’t see location as a hindrance.

“The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is one of Canada’s finest art museums,” said Holly Lenk, manager of travel media relations for Tourism Victoria. “Its location, just five minutes outside of downtown Victoria, is easily accessible and just a couple of blocks from Craigdarroch Castle.”

Besides, pedestrian traffic isn’t a consideration, Tupper said.

“When people leave their door or their hotel room they know exactly where they’re going,” he said. “They will look you up and they will find you.”

Tourists only make up 25 per cent of visitors to the gallery.

“We’re here for our local community first and foremost that’s our primary audience,” Tupper said. Space for more functions and programs would also generate revenue, he added. Currently the gallery is 40 per cent government funded.

“Right now we see government’s retreating more and more from being involved in culture … We have to fill that in,” Tupper said. “We have to be able to keep the doors open.”

With the decision to stay, last fall the gallery issued a request for proposals seeking architects who could add the required space, while maintaining the look of the neighbourhood.

“We’re not doing a good job of that,” Tupper said, citing the Moss Street side as an example. “It needs to be fixed up so it looks a little bit more like the neighbourhood … make it a real gem of a building … that’s in harmony with the place we’re situated.”

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