Appeared in the North Shore News – September 27, 2013
It may seem whimsical to urge saving a parking lot and to politely advise an arts centre lobby to look for a site elsewhere. Or get lost.
If it’s whimsy, it’s serious whimsy.
This is a special parking lot on invaluable land. The aggressive arts council is proposing the arts centre, expanded to include architectural and design aspects, for the entire 1600-block Bellevue, on the leafy, airy parking lot needed by moms, dads and children using the John Lawson Park picnic and play area – just as the playground is being rightly expanded and Ambleside is already screaming with vehicle crawl and parking torture.
The proposal is for the arts edifice – including a gift shop and wine bar, now that’s really needed if, as I suspect, the centre is more dedicated to chatting about art than creating it – to sit on a two-level parkade. People hate parkades. This one obviously would need to be built above the water table, high waves having flooded nearby land just months ago. It would block physical access to the beach and water views to the eye.
The childless and picnic-intolerant should sit up and take notice that the estimated cost for the 26,000-square-foot centre is $28 million, paid for with “donations.” As if West Vancouverites would throw in a fraction of that. A fair guess is that anyone tossing in $1 million would get his or her name immortalized over the entrance.
Nope, grants will be sought from deeply indebted federal and provincial governments. But operating costs – high, especially to meet stringent Class A art gallery standards, which include careful temperature control – would be borne by West Vancouver taxpayers. You okay with that?
Business-savvy councilwatcher Garrett Polman notes that council approved an arts facility for the site, contingent on funding and a business plan, in May 2012. His recollection is that the proposal included 20-odd offices – shades of the mysterious second floor in our swanky community centre – and that “only about a quarter of the square footage would be available for public display space.
“I checked some of the large New York museums such as the MoMA and the Met,” Polman writes, “and they (thankfully) devote over 50 per cent of their space to display art. Being an avid museum-goer – to well over 500 museums worldwide – it made me wonder for whom this facility is to be built.”
As for funding, Polman says: “The arts community has been pushing for this facility since the early 1960s but as of 2012 had not collected as much as a dime.”
Allow me to be uncharacteristically unkind. (You may laugh if you wish.) This is Monumentism in full flower. Its backers predictably include a small knot of art aficionados and artists – some not deigning to display their upmarket wares in the existing four modest art venues on Argyle – hot boosters of Ambleside revitalization, better achieved by lower business taxes and cutting town hall fat, and the cementpourers, happy to build anything anywhere.
Let’s talk taste. The earlier assault was on the Ferry Building site at 13th and Argyle. The lobby first proposed to move the Ferry and build on the site. Then they pitched a separate gallery, near enough to shatter the balance and grace of the total site – and also a beach view-blocker. Come on! Did none of these artsy people see that the Ferry needs “empty” space – alone-ness, in a sea of grass on gently rolling land, to set it off? These people are esthetically cool? The 1912 Ferry Building isn’t the Parthenon, but, dammit, it’s our own and part of our history.
The public embraced the proposals like the bubonic plague. They “did not support the foot of 14th Street as a location chosen for the arts centre,” the bureaucrats noted with understatement, and the West Vancouver Historical Society also “objected to large scale arts facilities on Argyle.”
In May this year, Brent Leigh, West Vancouver’s deputy chief administrative officer, submitted a report to council updating the 2011-12 plans – incredibly, ridiculously, without one word about the 1600-block site’s present use. On May 28, on a motion by Coun. Craig Cameron seconded by Coun. Michael Lewis, council again approved the project in principle, with conditions.
One being: “A comprehensive process of public consultation on, among other things, the location, size and functional program of a new Arts Centre.”
An invitation for West Vancouverites to speak up, again, clearly, when the issue returns to council next month.
Sad note. Funeral services were held today for popular Const. Louis Beglaw, who died on duty Sept. 16. He joined the West Vancouver Police Department in 2003 and since 2007 had patrolled with police dog Capone.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013