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Ottawa pledges $29.3m to build $400m Vancouver Art Gallery

Total fundraising has now exceeded $280 million
Here is a recent rendering of the proposed Vancouver Art Gallery

Fundraising for a proposed $400-million Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) has has now exceeded $280 million thanks to the federal government at an event this morning pledging its first round of financial support: $29.3 million.

The new money includes $4.3 million from Heritage Canada, with the remaining $25 million coming from Infrastructure Canada. 

Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry announced the new funding, and at the end of her speech said, "maybe we can see each other next year for more money."

Fry told BIV after the event that she was "ready to roll up my sleeves" in her efforts to ensure that the federal government provides more money, although she would not provide a specific amount. Often projects include matching funds from provincial and federal governments. 

The VAG has been planning for about 14 years to move from its Robson Square location to a new site on the southern two-thirds of the block bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and West Georgia streets.

Former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell kicked off fundraising for a new gallery with a $50-million pledge in 2008.

The VAG has asked the province for an additional $50 million but has not yet received that money. 

B.C. Tourism Minister Melanie Mark in November told BIV that providing that additional $50 million in funding was contingent on other support.

"We need the federal government, and all levels [of government] to get to the table," Mark said at the time. "We need to paddle together, and make sure that we get this across the finish line."

That stance on the new art gallery was in stark contrast to the provincial government's approach to building a new museum. Premier John Horgan in May announced that his government would fully fund a $789-million museum in Victoria, before public opposition prompted him in June to postpone the project, and do more consultation.  

No provincial government representative was at today's event at the VAG. 

Vancouver city council, in 2013, agreed to give the VAG a 99-year lease on its desired site, which is known as Larwill Park despite being a parking lot. The site was valued at $100 million at the time but the VAG is not including that in-kind donation as part of the money that it has raised, or in the cost of the project. 

"Our target is still 400 million," VAG CEO Anthony Kiendl told BIV after the announcement. "We're just over 70 per cent there, so we've been continuing to raise money privately."

In 2021, the price tag for the new gallery was pegged at $355 million, including a $50 million endowment fund. The VAG then upped its estimate for the project's cost to $400 million last November, when Polygon Homes CEO and Audain Foundation chair Michael Audain and his wife Yoshi Karasawa pledged that their foundation would provide $100 million to the project. 

Other big donors include the Chan family, headed by patriarch Caleb Chan, in 2019 promising to provide $40 million. Aritzia CEO Brian Hill and wife Andrea Hill pledged $5 million. Various VAG board members through the years have also pledged funding. 

The Chan family's donation was sufficient to name the VAG's building the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts. 

"The new VAG at the Chan Center for the Visual Arts is more than just a building, it will become a destination within our province and our country," Kiendl said in his speech. "It will help drive our economy and host new public amenities including an Indigenous gathering place, an art-focused early-childhood daycare, public green spaces, a state-of-the-art theatre and artist-in-residence studios."

He added that the 300,000-square-foot gallery will have dedicated classrooms for community programming, and public lecture spaces that could be used for conferences, films and other events.

"The new VAG will be a transformative gathering place for Vancouver, for B.C. and for Canada," he said.

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