Donors pledge $30M for stalled waterfront art gallery project

·3 min read
Grant Machum speaks at the annual general meeting for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.  (Jean Laroche - image credit)
Grant Machum speaks at the annual general meeting for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. (Jean Laroche - image credit)

Private donors have so far pledged $30 million to help pay for the construction of the proposed Halifax waterfront home for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS), a project the Houston government put a halt to in July.

Grant Machum, chair of the AGNS board, shared that news at the gallery's annual meeting Wednesday evening, making it clear that money should be there once the province gives the $137 million project the green light to proceed.

"The individuals who paused their support, totalling $30 million, have indicated that they're prepared to continue their support of the gallery, understanding the importance of arts and culture in our community and cities and our own well-being," Machum told the about two dozen people who attended the meeting.

Premier Tim Houston announced a halt to the project in July telling reporters, "the cost of this is out of control right now."

At the time, his office provided a one-page summary of those increased costs, but refused to publicly release the full assessment. According to that summary, the project would cost $162,594,778 rather than the original bill of $136,594,928, a $25,855,850 difference.

Committed to project

Justin Huston, the deputy minister of the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage, used the annual meeting to try to reassure gallery staff and supporters this project was not dead.

"The department remains committed to the project," Huston told those gathered in the gallery's theatre. "The premier has stated this commitment publicly as well and the project will go forward when the time is right."

"We continue to believe in our arts and culture sector and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is a space for community that supports wellness, education and growth through the visual arts," he said. "It's important to the city, the province and, I would argue, Canada."

Jean Laroche
Jean Laroche

Board member Rod McCulloch prodded the senior official for a pledge that this temporary halt would be short lived during his report on the board committee created to assist with the oversight of the construction of a new gallery.

"Hopefully that committee will still be around in a couple of years, Mr. Deputy Minister?" said McCulloch.

Following the meeting, Huston could not say how long this project might remain in limbo.

"I wish I could, I wish I knew," Huston told CBC News. "But that's just not possible right now.

"We're working closely with the gallery, with our colleagues at Public Works, to stay on top of that and when the time is right we're going to be ready to move forward."

Asked what price tag the governing PCs would be comfortable with, Huston pointed to the original estimate of $137 million.

"That's what we're looking to come in under, but we've got to see where things are with costs and what's realistic going forward," he said.

For his part, Machum remained confident the money pledged so far would come in, as long as the delay didn't drag on.

"They're with us and they're prepared to see this through," said Machum. "They believe in it and that's not going to change in the next year or two.

"Every indication that I have is that this is something that will move forward in the next year or two."

According to the gallery's recently released financial statement, to date it has contributed $1.5 million toward its $30 million share of the cost of the project.