The Vancouver Art Gallery & The Boer WarWednesday, March 10, 2010
While driving Monday morning to Rona to purchase shady garden grass seed for my garden, I turned on CBC Radio 1’s Almanac and listened to Kirk Williams. He is the provisional host while Mark Forsythe is on holidays. Williams introduced a man whose voice was a dead ringer for Archibald Alexander Leach. It was a smooth and urbane voice. I would vote for the auditory doppelgänger or buy a used Toyota from him.
The Cary Grant impersonator was Michael Audain OC OBC Chairman Polygon Homes Ltd., Chair of the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation, the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Gallery of Canada and most important is Chair of the group involved in the project to move the VAG to Larwill Park across from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. He was calm and fielded questions (most listeners who chipped into the program were against the move) very well. He even managed to answer (it sounded good, I am not sure he made sense) when a speaker enquired about the in-the-red situation of the current art gallery and the fact that they are reducing staff and shortening their hours to save money.
It is understood that since the Province of British Columbia (which owns the property) does not charge the VAG rent, the reason for the red ink has to be explored and reconciled with a sum that would be upwards of 250 million Canadian dollars to build a new facility in the proposed site of Larwill Park which is the city block to one side of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Larwill Park was a temporary (I understand that from the records) site of the Greyhound Bus Station. Previous to that it had served as a military parade ground and troops that were going to be sent to the Boer war were mustered there.
In the last few weeks several troubling incidents re: our city, have been revealed by the Vancouver Sun, the Globe & Mail and Francis Bula in her blog.
1. Under the mayorship of Philip Owen a deal was struck where the Vancouver Park Board sold Larwill Park to the City's Property Endowment Fund so that the Board could buy land along the Fraser River.
2. Subsequently we have found out that an office tower might be built in Larwill Park as a quid pro quo arrangement whereupon as Francis Bula writes in her blog(fragment of it in paragraph below)
The latest complication I discovered on Friday was that the city has already committed to using $48 million of the development profits from the site (most if not all of them) to pay for the QE Theatre renovation that happened in the past couple of years. More details on this confusing tale [in the Globe & Mail] here.
3. An article in the Tuesday Vancouver Sun written by Jonathan Ross explains why so much stuff happens in our city behind closed doors. It seems that many important decisions are made by our city bureaucrats and not by our elected officials.
4. Max Wyman told me he was privy some years ago to a meeting at the VAG that proposed the idea of incorporating the parts of the Simpson Sears building (designed by renowned international architect Cesar Pelli) with the VAG. An unnamed friend of mine said, “Douglas Coupland could place one of his airplane sized projects into that building with room to spare.” Wyman even told me that there were discussions involving he building of some sort of mechanical escalator between the VAG and Sears.
We (I) suspect that when Eaton’s had to vacate the site Cadillac Fairview (it leases the building from the city who owns the land) must have given Sears a sweet deal. But the sweet deal is not going to bring shoppers into a store that does not have a department that sells one of the Sears mainstays, Craftsman tools. I have to go all the way to Lougheed Highway to have my Craftsman lawnmower serviced. It would seem to me that if Sears could sublease part of the cavernous building, Sears, the VAG and we the citizens of this city would profit.
5. Miro Cernetig wrote an intelligent column on Monday on what is happening to our Robson Square Centre and particular in the light on how popular the location was during the 2010 Olympics.
To 5 I would add that I had several discussions on Robson Square with Arthur Erickson and my friend Abraham Rogatnick (who died in August 2009). It was our opinion that one of the biggest mistakes of our city was to bring in UBC to Robson Square.
The average person on the street is aware that Simon Fraser University is in town. Coincidentally he or she might even inform you that part of that downtown site on West Hastings was formerly a Sears store! I have attended countless seminars and lectures on urban affairs at SFU Downtown Campus.
How many people know that there is an important bookstore not far from Chapters on Robson and Howe? Few might know that UBC has a downtown campus in Robson Square and that the prestigious UBC Bookstore has a branch right there!
This general ignorance is that in my opinion UBC has botched its presence downtown. They have ill used the site and given it such a low profile that few know it exists.
In the past the Robson Media Centre (as it used to be called) had interesting cultural events in the premises and in particular in the Judge White Auditorium. It was in this auditorium whose sides had softly carpeted steps where some of us would slouch to listen to the likes of Arthur Erickson talk about our city. The auditorium was always full and I felt the richness of living with a city. I felt almost like an Athenian citizen of old.
What has happened to that auditorium? Is it used at all? This auditorium could be the very auditorium that Michael Audain says the VAG lacks.
It is my opinion (one I shared with Abraham Rogatnick) that UBC should vacate Robson Square and that it be taken over by the VAG.
In the photo above which I took for the Globe & Mail in 1997 that's, from left to right the then director of the gallery, Alf Boguski, curator Dana Augaitis and Michael Audain.