Appeared in the North Shore News – July 31, 2015
Wrong. Public demand, small. Public money, big. Public need, registering at all? And at the top of the list, mine, anyway: wrong, wrong, wrong site.
That’s the long-sought West Vancouver art gallery — now art-gallery-plus, the appeal and the pitch broadened in recent years under the imposing rubric of The Centre for Art, Architecture + Design, CAAD.
But the most widely recognizable “culture” emanating from this edifice might well be Mendelsshon’s “Wedding March” (known to plebs as “Here Comes the Bride”) and “Happy Birthday.” Maybe, stag night, even “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Because, doubtless figuring out that art in a small suburban gallery is of sharply limited appeal — been there, done that once is any gallery’s problem — and, noting that even the Vancouver Art Gallery is split, confused and this very day is ending a desperate pitch to coax back former members — possibly including the city’s uber-realtor and deep-pockets art patron, gallery-expansion dissident Bob Rennie — the backers are relying on a 200-person rental space for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations for a large percentage, not divulged to the undersigned, of its revenue. And also a café-not-quite-restaurant, kitchen smells being a problem, and gift shop.
I pause to underline that the gallery advocates are good, community-dedicated citizens — and they include at least one prominent artist, much-loved nonagenarian Gordon Smith, whose name already adorns a North Vancouver gallery. And renowned Hollingsworth Architecture Inc., creators of some stunning, original and stratospherically priced estates, would have the contract. We’re having a difference of opinion. No vilification here — and, if it matters, no personal hostility to the arts.
To continue: The vision for CAAD, then, has expanded far beyond an art gallery. It’s a “beautiful evolution,” “a re-imagining of the space” for more educational and commercial purposes, says Merla Beckerman. She’s easily CAAD’s most dedicated proponent, an expert in arts territory: a former vice-chair of the National Gallery of Canada, former chair and trustee of the Vancouver Art Gallery Board, now co-chair of the CAAD development committee.
Through interviews and emails I had asked CAAD proponents: So I go into CAAD’s design area and architecture area, and what would I actually see? I got no satisfactory answer.
I asked Beckerman. With overstated modesty, I suspect, she emphasizes: “I’m not a curator.” But she’s more informative than the others: “Design can encompass inventions, technology, nature.” There might be pictures, videos in the architecture area: “The North Shore prides itself on its West Coast Modern architecture.”
The distasteful subject of money comes up (CAAD hasn’t a dime; “we haven’t started to fundraise yet,” said Beckerman — flatly rejecting any notion that private donors might seem in conflict if they were also celebrated in gallery displays).
Ottawa and Victoria would have to throw millions into the pot, and both have stonewalled the Vancouver gallery about contributing to its $350-million new gallery, so why would they write cheques for CAAD? I think I hear the discreet scurrying of lobbying, influence, politics — Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, former WV mayor and Liberal candidate in October’s federal election, and former councillor Michael Evison are on the CAAD campaign.
(And that’s to say nothing of Mayor Michael Smith. I have no idea what Smith knows about art, not a topic in our interviews, but he’s a zealot for revitalizing Marine Drive area business — not its present small businesses, but the glossier, taller, bigger-taxed businesses befitting this rich town, which is what his new business improvement area’s vision is all about. He’s a businessman, with business’s “unleashing value” approach.)
But CAAD’s operating costs? Municipal. No sweat. In one of the most enjoyable hype sessions I can recall, Brent Leigh, town hall’s just-departed deputy chief administrative officer, all but seized me by the lapels, declaring salaries of existing staff — there are six, count ’em, six, offices for staff in CAAD’s plan — and other operating costs would be totally covered by revenues. Guaranteed. Personally. Write it in blood, I suggested. He didn’t open a vein.
The sensitive reader will have caught my subtle biases. But I have one more. The biggest. Saved it to last. And don’t think the CAADs aren’t super-touchy about it.
The site. CAAD, three storeys with underground parking (flooding, anyone?), would be built on the present open, safer and human-level parking lot an apple-toss away from an outstanding town hall success of recent years — the superbly designed children’s playground at John Lawson Park on Ambleside Beach. It’s a terrific draw, even in winter.
CAAD’s promotional PR-speak doesn’t utter a word about the playground. There is an air photo — looking eastward, the playground out of sight. It’s a silence that shouts.
Reader, dispute or ignore all of the above arguments. It says here the issue stops dead on the choice of site. Wrong, wrong, wrong. CAAD has momentum, perhaps unstoppable. Councillors, you’ll be watched.
© Trevor Lautens, 2015