Bogged down with a deteriorating building and insufficient space to expand, the Art Gallery of Algoma is looking for a new building to replace the existing one on the Sault riverfront.
A proposed new two-level AGA would be 30,000 sq ft, an increase of 12,000 sq. ft. The current AGA building, which opened in 1980, would be demolished.
Plans are in the earliest stages, no dollar figure attached to the project just yet, but the AGA has conducted a comprehensive feasibility study. Monday night an AGA delegation appeared at City Council to present its key findings of that study.
The delegation was led by Mark Lapore, President of the AGA Board of Directors, AGA Executive Director Jasmina Jovanovic, Susan Myers, Working Chair of AGA’s New Building Committee and Peggy Theodore of
the Diamond Schmitt Architectural firm.
Council heard the current building is deteriorating, and the AGA’s ability to function is limited. A new building would meet current needs and allow for growth 20 years into the future.
The AGA’s vision, is to be a premier visual arts centre in Northern Ontario. The AGA aims to acquire Dr. Roberta Bonder’s collection, to display and preserve it. Dr. Bondar is Honorary Chair of the AGA New Building Committee and a staunch supporter of the AGA.
In a letter to council she wrote, in part: “Creativity, self awareness and self expression within the safety net of community are essential to the development of diversity in thinking, inclusion and good mental health. We are inspired by those whose works we see that give us new lines of thought, and another entrance to the world close by, and farther away.”The AGA vision includes an increase in art education for all age groups and increased access for children and youth in the city.
The AGA also seeks to expand its partnership with Algoma University’s Fine Arts program. With greater space, Lepore says the AGA can offer permanent exhibition space for local artists, and build on its reputation of supporting Indigenous creative expression through various exhibitions, programs and the growth of the Indigenous art collection.
“This is a foundational step,” said Lepore. “We have a lot of work left to do. Along with the detailed functional program we’d like commence with an early schematic design so that we can really take a good look at how the building would come to shape. One of next immediate steps, said Lepore is setting up a capital campaign for the new building.”
Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says he benefitted enormously by sitting on the AGA building committee back when he was a councillor, and understands how the facility has arrived at its current state.
He says the Art Gallery building is like any other city-owned asset.
“It’s new, it gets old, we have to build new or we have to update it. We just hid it with the McMeeken, 20 years ago it was the John Rhodes.” said Sheomaker.
“Sometime in the foreseeable future,” he continued, “it’s going to be the Art Gallery. Whether that is a new build, whether that is a new location within an existing building or whether that’s a combined service with something else (it’s) all to be determined. It is something that we are turning our minds to at this very early stage with the intention of getting there at some point in the future, provided we can afford it.”
Shoemaker cited Thunder Bay’s Art Gallery, with a cost of $50 million. TheFederal gov’t contributed the lion’s share at $35 million and the City of Thunder Bay, $6 million. The rest came from the province and external partners.
“There is an opportunity for great partnerships and for funding from other levels of government when you go down this road. But I think the Art Gallery needs to get a bit further down the road before those conversations can happen, so that a funding level of government can say ‘here’s what proposed, here’s what we can put into it’.”
The City, said Shoemaker is a partner with the AGA in its continued success, adding “it’s clear you’re coming to the end of the line of that building.” Shooemaker said the city has worked with and will continue to work with the AGA through its current difficulties.