Future of Saskatoon's Mendel Art Gallery about to be unveiled

Saskatoon residents are expecting to find out Friday afternoon if the city's most important art gallery will be moving.

Saskatoon residents are expecting to find out Friday afternoon if the city's most important art gallery will be moving.

Government officials will be in the city for an announcement concerning the future of the Mendel Art Gallery, located northeast of the downtown at 950 Spadina Crescent E.

Sources have told CBC News the announcement will propose the building of a new and much larger art gallery about 1½ kilometres away at River Landing, south of the downtown.

That's the major development that's home to the new Persephone Theatre and where a number of other commercial and residential projects are planned.

The possibility of the move has been discussed for years and has created controversy in the city.

Mendel supporter Bubs Coleman, who worked at the gallery for many years, said the current building is too small and has simply outlived its usefulness.

"Every time we had a show change, which was every four to six to eight weeks, the gallery had to be closed for a week," she said. "There is no access from the freight elevator to the big pieces of artwork to get them into the galleries."

Problems with the building have been well documented: the heating system needs to be replaced, storage is inadequate and renovations would be expensive.

Even so, many have said they don't welcome a move.

Ray Martineau, a former board member and chair of the Mendel Foundation, doesn't understand the rush to move to a new site.

"It looks to me as if  they're in a hell of a hurry to fill a space in south downtown," he said. "I don't think they've had good planning in terms of that area and they are just looking to stuff something in the space."

Martineau says he is also troubled by the rumour of a possible name change — to the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. That's no way to treat gallery founder, the late Fred Mendel, he said.