From left, Finance Minister Carole James, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria director Jon Tupper and Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Lisa Beare at the podium following a provincial announcement of $6 million in funding for the Next Gallery Project expansion. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria expansion gets $6M boost from province

Project many years in the making, but planned for current Rockland site

It can never be a bad thing to have the current B.C. finance minister as your MLA.

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James joked has shared its hopes and dreams since she was first elected in 2005, was rewarded for its patience with a $6-million commitment from the province toward its $30-million Next Gallery Project.

The announcement came Sunday in a crowded side gallery at the Moss Street site, almost indicative of the need for more space for the B.C. capital’s largest and most historic art gallery.

“I don’t need to tell you what a strong, flourishing arts and culture community we have right here in Victoria, and how much they’ve contributed to our social and economic life here in our region,” James told the crowd of supporters.

“From the historic mansion to the exhibition galleries, from the Moss Street Paint-In to your Family Sundays [program], the art gallery is both a foundation and a driving force in Greater Victoria.”

The Art Gallery has long been planning to expand its offerings with a larger exhibition space and more visitor amenities. A previous plan called for a satellite gallery being built in a downtown condominium building, but that development never came to fruition and the gallery board subsequently decided to expand on the current site.

Next Gallery aims to preserve the original location of the Spencer Mansion and build 1,850 square metres of new gallery space in a sparkling new structure fronting onto Moss Street and built to modern seismic and environmental standards. It would feature a large glassed-in atrium entrance, a community auditorium, sculpture garden, cafe and expanded gift shop, as well as more space for interactive educational programs and collection storage.

Gallery looks to freshen its approach to visitor experience

Gallery director Jon Tupper said for the past seven or eight years he’s been trying to convince government MLAs of the value of the province financially supporting a cultural amenity in Victoria. Part of those conversations has been about the need for a more robust space that offers a flexibility of offerings to visitors.

“What has happened over the last 30 years is folks, when they come to the gallery [they] want a different type of experience,” Tupper said. “They don’t want to necessarily only stand there quietly looking at a painting or sculpture, they want to interact with other visitors sometimes; with staff, if they want to have a learning experience, and sometimes they want to have an emotional experience. It means there are special requirements for us to build.”

And like most museums and public galleries, they have far more items in their collection than room to display them.

“We do have world-class art here, we’re just not getting the opportunity to show it,” Tupper said.

Ruth Wittenberg, president of the board of directors, pointed out the funding is the largest provincial contribution to arts and cultural infrastructure in the City of Victoria. In reference to James’ comment about the persistence of Art Gallery representatives, Wittenberg told her, “We will make you proud, I promise you. When you bring your grandchildren here you can say, ‘I helped build this wonderful place.’”

Mayor Lisa Helps, on hand for the announcement, called the Art Gallery “foundational to who we are as Victorians. Arts and culture is in our blood and it’s part of what makes Victoria Victoria,” she said.

She echoed a statement Tupper made about the importance of our institutions befitting a capital city, noting that “the investment today from the province will help ensure that happens.”

The Art Gallery will continue to work with Victoria MP Murray Rankin for help in convincing the federal government that a national investment in this project also makes sense from a Canadian arts and cultural perspective.

The tentative timeline for starting construction is early 2019. For more information on the Next Gallery Project, visit aggv.ca.

editor@vicnews.com

 

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria president of the board of directors Ruth Wittenberg speaks at a provincial announcement of $6 million in funding for the Next Gallery Project expansion. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

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