Since 1983, the old courthouse at 750 Hornby Street has been the Vancouver Art Gallery’s home. The gallery and the area surrounding have hosted many of the city’s defining events. The gallery itself carves a chunk out of the business-based downtown core, combining culture, art, education, history and law in three blocks. While there has been talk for a while, it is now clear that the largest art gallery in Western Canada will be getting a new home. Moving from its downtown location on Hornby to Larwill Park by the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the gallery will expand by three times, allowing more exhibits and storage as well as expanding art education.
Many will debate a 300 plus million price tag. One of the points of contention is what will remain after the gallery has left its current spot. During the gallery’s thirty-year tenure in this building, the area emanated Canadian culture. From rallies and demonstrations, to the Blues Festival, the Olympic Clock, the UBC’s satellite campus, Robson Square and more, the site has developed a certain beloved character.
Currently, UBC’s Robson Square satellite campus is located just behind the art gallery. Due to the school’s proximity, a UBC takeover is a good possibility. An expansion of the school’s law program would make it a powerhouse in the country. Having the university in this location would also ensure a steady flow of young people in the area.
Along with UBC, a number of other groups are vying for this prime real estate spot. Ron Stern, the chair of the Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society is promoting a theatre, concert hall and cultural hub to take over the building. While his plan does include a 1950 seat concert hall and 450 seat multi-purpose theatre, what makes it interesting is that Stern wants it to be more than that. Says Stern, “We want a place where people can hang out, regardless of involvement in the performing or musical arts”.
Recently elected MP for Vancouver-False Creek and former mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan, blogged about the arts in Vancouver. He said, “I view public expenditure on the arts as an investment… Art in our community improves our quality of life. It adds vibrancy to the places we live. As we discovered during the Olympics, art installations in public spaces create a sense of gathering, perspective and pride.” It’s clear that provincial politics may play a roll in determining the outcome of this city matter. Currently, the provincial government is kicking in around 100 million dollars to the relocation.
One of the most surprising things about the proposals for the old court house are their positivity. Each group takes into account the current uses and character of the area and seeks to build upon them. The idea of a theatre, concert or lecture hall has been promoted by a number of groups. A new performing arts complex would fill a hole with the possibility that Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts is being sold to the West Side Church. The building may be shared.
When the gallery moves, the new tenant(s) in the building must ensure to maintain the area’s important identity.