Nova Scotia

Province announces $130M plan for art gallery on Halifax waterfront

Nova Scotia's new $130-million art gallery will be built next to Bishop's Landing on the Halifax waterfront on land currently being used as a parking lot on Lower Water Street.

New art gallery will be built on land currently used as parking lot

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

A new $130-million art gallery will be built next to Bishop's Landing on the Halifax waterfront on land currently being used as a parking lot on Lower Water Street.

The Nova Scotia government announced Thursday the 13,000-square-metre facility will feature large public spaces "and additional space to better showcase the dynamic provincial art collection, much of which has been in storage for many years."

It will house the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which will move from its current 8,300-square-metre building on Hollis Street.

"We're committed to this project," said Premier Stephen McNeil during the announcement.

"We're committing up to $80 million on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia to ensure that not only will we build an iconic building, but we will build a world-class building that represents how much we appreciate and value the cultural sector and the arts in our province."

The provincial government is shouldering most of the cost, but the federal government will chip in $30 million. The gallery will have to raise the remaining money.

It could cost as much as $140 million, depending on contracts. The project still has to go to tender.

There is no start date for construction or a date for completion of the project. 

Premier Stephen McNeil speaks with Erik Sande, chair of the board of governors of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, during the announcement on Thursday. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The hope is a new facility will double the number of people who currently visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, from 64,000 visitors annually to 120,000. 

Nancy Noble, director and CEO of the gallery, said the move will be "huge" for the organization.

"It allows us to reinvent the art gallery for Atlantic Canada and the region, and we're really excited to be able to build a purpose-built space that will work for all the things we want to accomplish by showcasing art and helping the public to better understand it," she said.

"All those great spaces we don't have here, we'll be able to create there."

While she said part of her will miss the old building on Hollis Street, the prospect of a new building with more space for exhibitions — including travelling exhibits — and accessible programming is too good an opportunity to pass up.

"It's been here a long time and there's a long history here, but I think we'll take that with us and create something that respects that and the collection we have here as well," she said.

People have been waiting for years for the gallery to display the work of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has had a collection of her photographs in their possession since 2013, but they have not yet been displayed because of issues with the person who donated them getting the work certified at a certain value for tax purposes.

Noble said the gallery is continuing to work with Leibovitz's team and hopes to see them go up in the new building.

Gallery director and CEO Nancy Noble says she's excited at the prospect of a new building with enough room for bigger exhibition and programming spaces. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The original plan for the gallery's move, which was announced last year, was to create a building with NSCAD University and the gallery under the same roof as part of a "cultural hub." But McNeil said Thursday the new plan doesn't include the school.

"NSCAD wasn't ready at this time to continue but that conversation is ongoing, and if you look at that when we develop the block ... [it] will be with the idea that if we wanted to put other cultural components on that space we can," he said.

He said that means NSCAD could build a new home beside the art gallery.

The new location for the gallery will be in a spot that, in recent years, has been used as a venue for the Halifax Jazz Festival. McNeil said he believes the gallery will be close to the water, so some space behind it will still be available for outdoor concerts.

If the city continues to develop a cultural hub in that space, he said there are other venues available.

"I continue to want to see JazzFest thrive in Halifax," he said.

"The spirit of that fest, in my personal view, is less about that particular block as it is about the spirit of what happens."

The organizers of the Halifax Jazz Festival aren't concerned.

Andrew Killawee, chair of its board of directors, said that as a fellow member of the arts community, they were happy that the gallery is getting a bigger and better home.

"When you look at something like the peninsula, there's only so many open spaces big enough, so we'll be exploring those, just like we did six or seven years ago when we moved from the (Halifax Central Library) site," he said. 

"We're not worried, it worked out fine, and it'll work out fine this time."

NSCAD did not respond Thursday to requests for comments about the school's plans.

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With files from Pam Berman and Amy Smith

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