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Vernon art gallery paints optimistic picture

New state of art cultural centre ‘can’t come soon enough’ for executive director
Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy is eager to see more progress on the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)

Work continues to be done behind the scenes to advance the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre, but this fall, the curtains will rise on the public campaign bringing the $39.5-million project back into the limelight.

Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy represents one user group that would call the new centre on the Vernon Block (3103 30th Street) home. She said VPAG has been looking forward to the new facility since talks of a new gallery started in 1986.

VPAG was rehomed to its 31st Avenue home in 1995 and expanded to more than 6,000 square feet by 2004. The spot under the downtown parkade was only meant to be temporary, Kennedy said, and a new state-of-the-art facility can’t come soon enough.

“We had a big exhibition last year where that wall had $60,000 of art on it and the wall flooded. Thank God the art was OK but those are the kinds of situations we’re dealing with,” she said. “This was never built as an art gallery.”

The gallery has outgrown its space and with ongoing issues of leaks and flooding, Kennedy said it’s a challenge to uphold its mandate to bring engaging art to the community.

“We’ve limited what we’ve brought in to the permanent collection. We don’t want any of it to be at risk,” Kennedy said. “We take care of it the best we can given the situation we have, but we really want to be able to provide a proper home and provide the proper care.”

Acknowledging current staff’s ongoing efforts to preserve the collection, Kennedy said a priority is to get temperature and humidity controls to ensure preservation.

“Once we do that and once we get to a Category A gallery, it really opens the doors to us,” she said. “We have a lot of people that would like to donate to us but won’t currently because they know our facility. They’re holding back donations until we’re in a place where we can properly house it.”

Kennedy said proper storage areas and dedicated classroom space are also a must-have in the new space.

“Right now, we’re dealing with temporary space where we have to bring things in and out, while that works for some uses but when it’s art, it’s messy. We need dedicated classrooms to provide different programming for youths and adults.”

In October 2018, voters supported the borrowing of up to $25 million for the construction of the new centre that would house the gallery and the Greater Vernon Museum and 200-seat performance space in a referendum.

Since then, most of the work so far has been done behind the scenes by stakeholders, user groups and the Regional District of North Okanagan.

The RDNO awaits news of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, a grant funded by the federal and provincial government, and user groups continue to work with private donors to fund the project.

Now, Kennedy said she’s excited to get the public capital campaign rolling this fall to raise between $4 and 6-million.

An estimated $500,000 in direct economic benefit is expected to stem from the centre once operational and welcoming around 60,000 visitors each year. But that trickle-down effect is far-reaching.

The RDNO expects $2 million a year in total economic benefit as the centre attracts longer tourist visits, expands programming and education opportunities, adds employment options and complements other attractions such as the Okanagan Rail Trail.

“The Cultural Centre will bring to the community a creative vibrancy to our downtown,” Kennedy said. “It is going to be a hub, whether they want to come explore art, history or the performing arts, or whether they want to come and have a social opportunity in a new way in a beautiful setting.

“There will be a little bit of something for everyone and it is going to be the go-to place that people want to explore.”

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READ MORE: Square footage may be revisited for Vernon cultural centre


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