Big donation for Art Gallery of Greater Victoria brings it closer to starting expansion

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria moved a step closer to its goal of raising $30 million for an expansion after announcing that BMO Financial Group has made a $500,000 commitment to its The NEXT Gallery project.

The announcement was made Thursday at the gallery’s home at 1040 Moss St., where extensive renovations are planned over the next year. “We will have a dedicated space, and that will be transformative for this institution,” said Michelle Jacques, the gallery’s chief curator, while flanked by several works from B.C. artists, including Emily Carr.

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“It has been the central goal of the gallery to set this collection in broader national context.”

The gift from the BMO Financial Group, the first by a national corporation to The NEXT Gallery project, will see the art gallery’s collection of regional and national art exhibited in the newly named BMO Gallery for Canadian and British Columbian Art.

The gift is one of the largest arts-related contributions the BMO Financial Group has made in the province, Jon Tupper, the gallery’s director, said in an interview. “The contribution BMO has made, other corporations are going to start looking at that and saying: ‘We need to get our name in there, too.’ There are only so many galleries that we can name in this building.”

The gallery’s home since 1951, which would expand to 41,100 square feet from 26,635 square feet as part of The NEXT Gallery project, has been in need of upgrades. Plans have been in motion since 2012 to renovate the building, which was built in 1889 as a single-family residence. Numerous galleries and extensions were added to the Rockland lot up until 1978.

“The last renovation that was done here was done 30 years ago,” Tupper said. “Our visitation has increased 75 per cent since that time, so it’s about time. We are in the provincial capital, we deserve something special.”

The art gallery’s vast collection of works from around the Pacific Rim, including world-class collections of Asian art, has expanded by 100 per cent in the same time frame, compounding the space crunch, Tupper said. “We have 20,000 works in our collection, so that’s a lot. It’s worth about $200 million, so we have to protect it. Heaven forbid something would happen to it, so we’re doing seismic upgrades and things like that to make sure we’re looking after these things.”

The commitment from BMO Financial Group pushes private and corporate donations to The NEXT Gallery past the $9-million mark. With $6 million in funding from the provincial government already committed, the art gallery renovation budget is at the halfway mark of its $30 million goal. Another round of funding is expected to be announced in the coming months. Building would commence soon after, Tupper said.

“Once we get to $25 million, we’re going to start, and then we’ll continue to raise money during the construction period,” he said. “I have a feeling we’ll be doing that within the next six months.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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