Nova Scotia

Artists worry art gallery's Yarmouth branch may never reopen

Artists who work and live in the Yarmouth area are worried the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia branch in Yarmouth may never reopen. It was closed in January, 2020 when smoke from an overheated ventilation motor triggered a fire alarm.

Western Branch of AGNS has been closed almost 14 months.

Painter Maggie Schmidt-Mandell doesn't think the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia does enough to promote the work of local artists, but she is still passionate about the need to reopen the Western Branch of the AGNS, located in Yarmouth.

"We need it," Schmidt-Mandell told CBC News during an interview from her home studio in Wedgeport. "Yarmouth needs some focal points that aren't just restaurants and bed and breakfasts. It kind of makes the town classy."

Watercolour artist Dan Earle shares her concern over whether the gallery will ever reopen.

"These days if you want to get art to people you've got to spread it out," said Earle. "You can't expect everybody to come rushing to Halifax to try and see a show."

Dan Earle, seen here during 2014 trip to Maine, says the gallery is important for artists in the area. (Submitted by Sue Hutchins)

The Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is housed in a century-old former Royal Bank of Canada building on Main Street in Yarmouth. On Jan. 28, 2020, firefighters responded when smoke from an overheated motor in the ventilation system triggered the building's fire alarm.

There was no fire, but the smoke did cause damage.

Repairs continue

Colin Stinson, the art gallery's director of marketing and visitor experience, said the repairs to the building are not finished.

"We have conserved the artwork, repainted the building interior, and continue to work on outstanding maintenance related to this issue," he wrote in an email to CBC News.

Although the gallery remains closed, last summer the local tourism bureau used the building when their usual space was taken over by the health authority so it could be used as a COVID-19 testing site. 

Stinson could not say when the gallery might reoccupy the building.

"We don't have a firm date, but the AGNS is steadfastly committed to work with our partners on a permanent reopening plan."

First opened in 2006, the Western Branch was designed to help "fulfil the gallery's mandate of making art more accessible across the province, and engaging people with art," according to a new release issued to mark the galley's tenth anniversary.

Earle and Schmidt-Mandell both feel the gallery should continue to make art available to people who live in the southwestern end of the province.

"It kept the arts alive, that's what it did," said Schmidt-Mandell.

"The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, although it has its shortcomings, here in Yarmouth was really a great boost to making us feel kind of like not an armpit, but a legitimate place."

Artists need art

Earle said there's no substitution for seeing art, properly curated and displayed. 

"There's really a huge difference between seeing a Picasso in a book and seeing it in a really fine museum," he said.

Earle said local artists also need the gallery to improve their work.

"We have a tremendous number of artists who live and work in southwest Nova Scotia," he said. "As part of the complex of being an artist is being able to conveniently go to an art show and see what other people are doing, and be involved in the community, as well as sitting in our studios and plunking away at our work."

Schmidt-Mandell is worried art gallery administrators may be more focused on building a new art gallery on the Halifax waterfront than spending money to reopen the Yarmouth branch.

"They're building a new venue and I'm sure they don't have the biggest budget in the world and their money is going to go there, not to Yarmouth."