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Committee to discuss whether to create art gallery expansion committee

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The Tom Thomson Art Gallery advisory committee is to decide next week whether the city should again start exploring a potential expansion of the city-owned gallery.

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Council supported a motion Monday by Coun. John Tamming, the committee’s chair, to ask gallery director and chief curator Aidan Ware to present a report to the committee on a proposal to establish a facility expansion ad hoc committee.

Ware is to make the presentation during the committee’s Jan. 27 meeting.

“There, she will explain in some detail the precise needs of the gallery and why now is an appropriate time to consider expansion,” Tamming said Thursday.

Ware, hired by the city in March to serve as the new head of the gallery, will not be reviewing any potential designs or costs at the meeting, he said, but will provide a summary needs assessment for the committee to consider.

Following the presentation, the committee could vote to recommend council approve the creation of an expansion ad hoc committee, Tamming said.

“As I noted at council this past Monday, these are baby steps, but necessary ones if we are to follow proper process. I personally hope that council will launch this committee when asked. I also hope it might report back within the year,” he said.

While presenting his motion to council, Tamming said there’s a pressing need to expand the gallery.

Residents and tourists want to see and experience more at the art museum, he said, so more and larger exhibition rooms are needed. There’s also a need for more storage space for art.

“We are literally bursting at the seams and unfortunately it’s very difficult for us to accept new donations without going off-site. And there are discussions of serious donations all the time with our gallery. It’s less than ideal if we can’t welcome that with open arms,” he told council.

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More space is also needed for staff, as some have their offices in converted storage rooms. The current building also has accessibility issues, he said. More room will also mean the possibility for broader community engagement and the opportunity to showcase and grow the gallery’s collection, he said.

Tamming said the committee will seek to make Ware’s presentation available to the public after the meeting.

It’s been years since the city last discussed the idea of expanding the gallery.

The gallery’s former board pursued a plan from 2014 to 2017 to expand the facility, saying more room was needed to store and increase its collection, display larger exhibits and offer additional programs.

But that investigation also involved a process to incorporate the gallery as a standalone charitable corporation, which officials at the time said needed to happen in order to allow it to tap into more funding opportunities to create and support an expanded gallery.

Council supported the incorporation plan in principle, prompting the board to investigate potential expansion options.

It initially preferred the idea of demolishing the gallery and an adjacent city-owned house to build a larger gallery on-site. Later, it pursued buying the city-owned former courthouse and transforming it into an expanded gallery. The city approved a conditional agreement to sell the site to the gallery, but the board later abandoned that plan after a due diligence process revealed significant issues with the building.

The board’s incorporation and expansion plan ended in October 2017 after it was revealed the gallery was facing a significant year-end deficit.

A council-approved plan to return the gallery to a solid financial footing included returning the gallery to a full city department, dissolving the board and creating an advisory committee instead.

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