Here's the thing about dreams: They can be expensive. If you're the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, your new dream home—the Waterfront Arts Centre—comes with a big price tag, estimated at $130 million. But good news arrived for the gallery yesterday, as Halifax Regional Council decided to add the gallery's $7 million dollar funding request to its upcoming budget considerations.
This is a reversal of fortune for AGNS. Late last month, the city's audit and finance committee discussed the $7 million funding request, with a staff report recommending the city contribute just $3 million, to be paid out in $600,000 increments each fiscal year until 2026-27. At the time, councillor/finance committee member Trish Purdy expressed concern about the expense being part of this year's budget when the building has yet to break ground. Mayor Mike Savage, meanwhile, spoke about the value of a strong arts and culture sector, saying: "The soul of the city and the heart of the city comes from a lot of different areas, including art."
At yesterday's city council meeting, deputy mayor Pam Lovelace was one of a handful of councillors who expressed concern over the cost, saying it was the city footing the province's bill. “It feels like I got a call from my big brother to go out for lunch but I’m expected to pay for it,” Lovelace said, since the gallery is a provincial asset. (The province is paying $70 million towards the project.)
Yet Lovelace and dissenters were outvoted in the end, with council deciding not only to consider the $3 million recommended by city staff but the full $7 million originally asked for by the AGNS in a 12-5 vote. It's this $7 million that will be on the table going forward in the budget process, as council finalizes its 2022-23 spending in the coming months.
“People talk about the Central Library, how it’s become the living room of Halifax—and I think this could be our rec room,” councillor Shawn Cleary said in support of the AGNS request. He adding the value the gallery will add to the city makes the cost easier to swallow.
The new Waterfront Arts Centre will stand on what's now a parking lot on the end of Salter Street, replacing the current AGNS at 1723 Hollis Street. The design for the building was unveiled in November 2020 and was created by internationally known installation artist Jordan Bennett, with a team that included KPMB Architects, Omar Gandhi Architect, Elder Lorraine Whitman, Public Work and Transsolar. Construction is planned to start in the spring of this year.