Appeared in the North Shore News – November 23, 2012
CHRISTMAS is coming, the goose is getting fat, so I’d hate to disappoint Constant Reader by being ho-ho-ho in favour of something
I stand by my proud record of rejection, most famously of the entire 20th century. (The 21st isn’t looking so hot either.)
Turning to Greater Tiddlycove, a.k.a. West Vancouver, I’m foursquare opposed to the pitch for an art gallery.
At Ambleside Beach. Or anywhere. Or for any unnecessary bauble that will stick it to taxpayers.
We can’t afford it. We – the entire Western world, the eastern world too, even Tiddlycove – are hurtling toward bankruptcy. Haven’t you read the papers? Or heard Michael Campbell’s dystopian predictions on CKNW?
Maybe not. Simple, trusting souls hold to a kind of implacable disbelief in financial talk. Too complicated. Boring. Even more, suspect. The fiscal cliff, sovereign debt, that’s just the governments, the banks and finance-page columnists jawing. Way above most people’s heads. Let the good times roll – back, back to where they were. Painlessly.
But that subject will wait for another day. Here and now, this is no time – if ever – to build an art gallery in West Van.
“A giant milestone for us,” Merla Beckerman said of the council’s supportive vote. No. A giant millstone.
Around paragraph 93 of the news report, the ugly – nay, philistinic – matter of money was gently raised. There isn’t any. There is only hope: That donations and grants will pay the “estimated” $25 million construction costs.
Don’t eat that, Elmer, as we used to say. In its earliest days, our glossy 21st Street community centre was estimated to cost $6 million. Completed, after blunders and delays, the final bill was north of $40 million, and it sucked town hall’s savings account dry.
Then there are operating costs for the proposed three-story, 28,000-square-foot building. Brent Leigh, deputy chief administrative officer, projects “private funding models” with “minimal district (i.e., taxpayer) support to pay those bills.”
A 12-month-a-year Santa Claus.
May I interrupt? I am not indifferent to art. Last month I bought three paintings, and about 10 in the last year or so, most by West Van and Bowen Island artists, including three by the under-recognized late Pam Scott, of Dundarave. One is by Tom Roberts, described as a member of the Group of Eight, if only there had been eight.
Of course I’ve been to the usual galleries. The Uffizi in Milan. The Tate. The Jeu de Paume in Paris and the predictable Louvre. The Guggenheim. The Art Institute of Chicago. The Buffalo. The Toronto. The Honolulu . . . never mind.
But those are trifles. I claim no expertise. In art, or anything. Only some familiarity with the art of spending other people’s money, i.e. taxpayers’, and the many petitioners of governments for their particular cause. The arts know no peer in this regard. OK, wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of grasping sports team owners demanding free arenas or stadiums from grovelling city councils.
Back to West Van’s proposed art edifice. Build it, and who will come? That is – come more than once or twice a year?
Because art galleries are like poker: You have to keep shuffling the deck. The enthusiasts are relatively few, and they won’t pay an eye-blinking entrance fee, like the Vancouver Art Gallery’s, unless the displays are vigorously changed.
The VAG is a compelling example. The lobbyists for a new gallery in an inferior venue – the VAG enjoys a majestic building and a centre-of-town location that other galleries would drink linseed oil for – plead lack of wall space, that 9,500-odd paintings are stored unseen in its vaults.
Of which, I’d guess, 9,000 are so-so, not especially worth seeing. Galleries, desperate for funds, count on imported shows of international drawing power to stay alive – something like restaurants sustained by Saturday nights and retailers praying for a good Christmas.
Such VAG-level shows must appeal to those (like me) with marginal interest in and knowledge of art – who have to be told, expensively and often, that a five-month display of 16th-century Volcanovian church art, or le dernier cri from Paris, is an absolute must-see. An art gallery in our little town, pop. 44,000, would be nowhere in that league, of course.
No misunderstanding: Advocates like Ruth Payne, the widely experienced Merla Beckerman, Darrin Morrison and Michael Evison are good people in a nice cause.
But I’d say wrong time – and wrong place. Town hall will clear the last few (and valuable, for night-time safety alone) beachfront houses on Ambleside Beach, while plonking down a view-limiting three-storey building on a parking lot, with drivers already screaming for space? Spare us.
. . .
So it wasn’t a misprint: The B.C. Property Assessment Appeal Board really did reduce the value of B.C. Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay terminal from $47.9 million to $20. I’ll take 10 of them.
© Trevor Lautens, 2012