All options open as council reboots VAG drive for new, larger gallery

Council’s Feb. 1 decision to give the Vancouver Art Gallery an option on two-thirds of the Larwill Park site next to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is not as definitive as it sounds.

Pete McMartin’s column in today’s Sun reports the views of architect Bing Thom, a sceptic about the need for a new building on a new site, who has just led the transformation of a Washington, DC, neighbourhood with the Arena Stage theatre complex. This project encased old buildings in a new one.

In effect, council rebooted a stalled process that has seen the VAG leadership bounced from one option to another for almost five years.

The first paragraph of council’s decision calls for development of a strategy to meet the future needs of the city, including “further refinement of the business case, analysis, peer assessment and feasibility of all options for a possible Gallery expansion or possible relocation.”

Job one is “a comprehensive review of the various options considered for the expansion and relocation which confirm the 688 Cambie site as the best option.” In other words, all the work up to now will be reviewed and assessed.

Much of that work began in 2006 as part of the secretive Cultural Precinct process steered by Ken Dobell, former city manager and former deputy to the Premier. It all went into the ditch in 2008 when Premier Gordon Campbell, a $50 million cheque in hand, decreed that the new gallery should go at the Plaza of Nations site near the newly-roofed BC Place Stadium.

Two years later, that plan was in the ditch as well. Now VAG is back at the drawing board, working at last on a public engagement plan to put all the cards on the table.

The one thing everyone agrees on: the VAG is a crucial cultural institution that needs to grow.