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Mayor hints at major donors for West Vancouver arts facility

The matter has been dragging through council for years, but the mayor says there may be some major funders in the mix
West Vancouver municipal hall | Paul McGrath / North Shore News files

West Vancouver may yet have its brand spankin’ new arts facility, but who will be paying for it and how it will be run are still shrouded in mystery.

Council received the final report of the Arts Facility Advisory Committee Monday, which has spent almost two years in consultations and study on how the district can build and run a single replacement for the West Vancouver Art Museum, Music Box, and Silk Purse, all of which are in poor shape and no longer meeting the needs of the community.

The quest to find a location and finances for a new purpose-built space for studios, a gallery, rehearsals and small performances has stretched on for years and became one of the key issues in the 2022 municipal election.

When a 2020 proposal to build a $34-$38 million facility within Ambleside Park proved divisive in the community, council order a new round of consultations looking into such things as preferred vision and governance model for a hypothetical new arts facility.

In their final report to council, the committee recommended the facility run on a “hybrid model” wherein a board of community volunteers would provide direction for the facility while day-to-day operations would be handled by municipal staff, similar to how the West Vancouver Community Centre operates now.

Council voted unanimously Monday to accept the committee’s report, but stopped short of endorsing the recommendations they’d produced after a year and a half of work.

Also, excised from their report was their work on the all-important financing of the multi-million-dollar facility.

At the outset of their debate, Coun. Scott Snider suggested the reason for its omission was that council was “pursuing an opportunity” that may leave the committee’s research on funding no longer relevant.

Coun. Nora Gambioli said she was troubled by the withholding of the funding analysis, but urged council to go a step further and endorse the committee’s recommendations.

“I really believe that we need to show our support for this work,” she said. “I believe that there’s been very extensive consultation that’s been going on really for dozens of years,… I think it’s more than enough.”

In response, Mayor Mark Sager clarified the rationale behind keeping the funding strategy out and not readily endorse the committee’s governance model.

There may be a potential donor or donors in the community who could help get the facility paid for but whose financial support is contingent on having a hand in crafting the governance model themselves. That, he noted, was exactly how the Kay Meek Arts Centre was built.

“Kay very much wanted to be involved in the setting up of the governance model. Fair enough. She put up $17 million and made that facility a reality. She was a wonderful lady and she helped,” he said. “If we are going to have a really great arts centre in West Vancouver, it’s going to take a few people like Kay Meek who are going to help us, and I know that they are there and I know they feel as passionately as most of us in this room feel.”

Prior to the vote, about dozen members of the local arts community and their supporters spoke up, urging council to get on with it.

“It felt odd that this 20-year conversation about the value and role of arts in the community would be waffling around through repeated studies, working groups, consultants and councils,” said Elaine McHarg. “Especially given the fact that West Vancouver is known to have a strong community of artists, architects, musicians, performers, and supporters, including collectors living here.”

Critics, however, urged council to hold off accepting the recommendations until the community had more time to digest what was in the lengthy report, which was only released with the agenda a few days earlier. Others reminded council about the segment of the community who’d like to see the vision scaled back.

“As all of you experienced during the campaign, there is generally … no community desire or no large community desire to build a grandiose destination arts facility,” said Barbara Chaworth-Musters.

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