New Art Gallery Building

Unfortunately the propensity for Council to make emotional-based decisions continues today.  The hot topic of the day is a new $20 to $30 million art gallery building.  In spite of its lack of community support and in spite of its rapidly growing annual expenses (77.3% growth in only four years), Council seems to be on a course to replace the Art Gallery building. Even though our five-year capital plan does not have any funds allocated for a new Art Gallery building.

Last fall, Council spent $9,600 to retain G.M. Diemert Architects to determine what size of building would be required to house the Gallery’s growing collection and expanding staff. Diemert’s report stated that the Gallery would require a building in the range of 35,000 to 38,000 square-feet at a cost of $22 to 30 million.  On 14 March 2022 Council approved a $30,000 “Pre-Feasibility” study. A week later Architects Moriyama & Teshima posted their vision for a new Art Gallery on their website that is shown above as figure 22.  

The Diemert report stated that the floor area required to secure collection would be about 10,000 square feet, which is roughly three to five times larger than the gallery’s current storage space.  The proposed new building would also include more staff office space that is badly needed because some staff are now using areas previously used for storage.   So what is driving this need for expansion? If we consider the rapid budget growth in figure 16, it’s reasonable to assume that the Gallery has hired 3-4 new employees over the last 4 years. Also the Art Gallery director Aidan Ware told Council on 14 November 2022, that Gallery has acquired over 1,200 new pieces over the past fifteen years nearly doubling its collection to 2600 pieces.  This sounds very much like a self-inflicted wound. 

The most appropriate solution to the Art Gallery’s space problems is to reduce size of the staff and the collection to what they were a few years ago and use the savings to begin to address the homelessness issue that residents identified in the Community Satisfaction Survey which Council seems to have ignored. However this is a very emotional issue for some councilors who see the Art Gallery as a status symbol that elevates Owen Sound in their eyes. 

It was clear from the discussion around the Council table on 14 November that this is a very emotional issue. The passion around the table was obvious as was the feeling that anyone who dares object to this costly expansion of the Art Gallery will be shouted down by the very vocal Art Gallery supporters as actually occurred on the 14th. As one Councilor angrily stated it at that meeting:

“I will challenge anyone before they start talking trash about what we are going to do with the gallery …  We have a collection that exceeds of tens of millions of dollars in value  ... and it is undervalued in this community by so many people … I don't base that on the number of people going through the building that is not the criteria under which we do these things… we need to dream big”

These statements highlight the vast disconnect between some members of council and the community that they are supposed to be serving.  Traditionally, the criteria used by municipalities to spend tax dollars on a service, is how much the service is used and how it is valued by the majority of taxpayers. The number of people “going through the building” is the overriding criteria. When a small group of residents can use their social and financial power to persuade councilors to change that criteria, to justify spending millions of tax dollars on a facility that they admit is not valued by most of the community, we no longer have a responsible government and a vibrant democracy – we have an oligarchy, where a small number of wealthy art supporters tell the vast majority of taxpayers how their hard earned money will be spent and if you dare question the need for a new Art Gallery, then you are; “talking trash” which justifies this group shouting down anyone opposing their expansion plans.