Toronto Star : "National gallery . . . in a garage" – entertainment – National gallery . . . in a garage

The Toronto Star is notoriously a Liberal paper in its reporting and editorializing. So it is not surprising to find the Star’s Peter Goddard lambasting the federal Conservatives over the National Portrait Gallery not being funded for completion in his column in today’s paper.

In the column, Goddard tells the tail of woe of the National Portrait Gallery having to be hosted in a garage located off a back alley in downtown Toronto. Goddard, in the column calls this fact the gallery is hosted in such awful conditions a travesty which is true.

Goddard only mentions, in passing, the idea of former Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps idea of a opening the portrait gallery in the old US Embassy building being launched in 2001. Then, for some reason, he lays the entire issue at the feet of today’s Conservative government. Goddard is right to blame the Stephen Harper government for cutting the $44 million in order to launch the national portrait gallery. But he believes this to be “more Tory political payback”. But really, is it all Conservative party problem?

Sheila Copps launched the idea for a National Portrait gallery in 2001 and nothing happened except the old US flag came down and a new Canadian flag went up. Since then nothing much has happened to the building. So why didn’t the Liberals get the museum up and running? Was it because of lack of money? Not likely since Paul Martin stressed it was the Liberals who slayed the deficit and now were running significant surpluses. Surely some of the money from the surpluses could have been invested in the museum to get it up and running. But perhaps with the problems the health care system was seeing, funding a new museum was not politically palatable at the time. So hence the Liberals kept putting it off and putting it off.

Fast forward to today, and it seems, according to Goddard, the Conservatives are to blame for not funding this new museum. Goddard unfairly believes the entire problem is with the Conservatives. But why shouldn’t the Liberals, who were in power the majority of the time between 2001 and today (2007) also share the blame?

Goddard also mentions a further tidbit of information, $44 million. It takes forty four million dollars to get this museum up and running? Lets figure out what the forty-four million might be used for:

1. Purchasing land and a building? Nope, the Canadian government already became owner of the former US embassy in 2001.

2. Renovations of the building? I would suggest the building already meets fire code for an office building. Perhaps only some minor renovations would be required for space and accessibility purposes but that should cost more than two million dollars tops. Two million is also probably on the very high side.

3. Purchasing portraits and art work? The Montrose Portrait Gallery of Canada, on their website, notes “The National Portrait Gallery of Canada has thousands of lovely portraits and millions of lovely photos” already. So why spend more money to acquire even more portraits if thousands of portraits and millions of these photos are currently collecting dust?

4. All portraits need picture frame hooks. So perhaps a good portion of the forty-four million dollars is to go towards the picture frame hooks and the hammers needed to mount them on the wall. No doubt there will be highly paid union jobs needed to put these portraits up on the wall. The portraits placings, of course being a government operation, would require hours of special committee meetings and bureaucrats to fuss over. This doesn’t even include the time to discuss what paint colours to use for the walls itself!

So in order to save everyone time and money, I hereby volunteer to do my part for the National Portrait Gallery of Canadaand volunteer my time and my hammer in order to get these portraits on the wall of the old US Embassy. I figure a team of 5 to 10 of us could each take a room and hang the probably already framed portraits on the walls of the old embassy building.

But of course the Portrait Gallery of Canada being a Liberal idea and a government operation, my suggestion will never see the light of day. But of course the spending of forty four million dollars down the toilet will never be the fault of the Liberals. The Liberals will only blame the Conservatives of course, once the Conservatives come to power that is. Otherwise, just like Goddard and the Toronto Star, while the Liberals form government, its all HUSH! HUSH!


6 thoughts on “Toronto Star : "National gallery . . . in a garage"

  1. Good points! I don’t know why it would take $44 million, but the renovations would probably be more than $2 mill. They would have to put in an all-new ventilation system in order to protect the paintings from deterioration due to heat or cold or dampness or too much dryness. Plus they would have to upgrade the lighting in order to both show the paintings to their best effect and protect them from light damage. Then there’s security changes — of paintings, rather than people. Just a thought. And oh yeah, they’d have to create storage facilities that would both protect the paintings in case of flooding or fire and allow access to them for curator viewing.

  2. Sorry Michael I disagree the 44 million is likely not an overestimate.

    The original cost of opening the museum in the old US embassy was 22 million

    But I anticipate that any government project will escalate so 44 million does not sound unreasonable.

    A large proportion of the cost will be associated with moving the works which is Michael not as simple as loading them on a pick up truck. Also they will likely need to be able to foot the cost of one full years running costs. Then imagine the insurance (for the museum and the move). Then there is computerization of the museum. Collection management software, digitization equipment, restoration specialists, security systems and monitoring, research staff, animators, HR personnel, restaurant construction and staff, Audio visual presentations and staff to set them up and run them. Staff costs need to be in hand before the year (a staff budget) to guarantee they get paid. 4 staff people at a low rate equals one million. All these things cost money and if they aren’t in the plan then the museum will likely suck. (and all this was just off the top of my head imagine the real costs)

    Nope $44 million sounds good to me. And the old argument that it is our tax money paying for this is fallacious. 1. We pay the highest taxes the government feels the public can bear regardless of what they plan to do with the money. 2. I would rather money go here than to seed money for businesses that generally go bust in a year.

    But I do agree both the liberals and the conservatives are to blame the Liberals dragged their feet likely because they new the conservatives would can anything that remotely smacked of the arts.

  3. $44 million?

    It seems pretty expensive to me.

    Security? The place used to be a United States Embassy! It was built to be secure so nothing could come or go without being detected.

    So perhaps I was a little off in renovation costing and closer to five million would suffice to widen doors and provide proper ventalation and lighting.

    Storage? Where are these paintings already stored? The Museum of Civilization, which the new portrait gallery is a division, should already have these paintings stored properly when not on display. If not, there should be questions asked as to why these paintings aren’t being properly stored today.

  4. It costs about $5-6 million to build a big box store (it’s often cheaper to build from scratch than renovate), and they don’t have the specialized ventilation needs that museums do, nor the same security requirements, nor the same lighting requirements. And don’t forget there’s a big difference between protecting people and protecting paintings. Every painting needs its own protection, in addition to the building, whereas with humans, it would be every room and especially the perimeter. As for storage, I seem to recall there’s a shortage of safe space as it is, and they’d want the paintings stored onsite, I would think, rather than across town. What is our heritage worth? The cost of a big box store or a properly constructed museum?

    To put all this in context, Mayor Miller was going to spend $6 mill on his office reno!

  5. Don’t forget Miller was going to have the construction done at Union rates (see Toronto’s Fair Wage By-law/policy) even if it was to be contracted out.

    The federal government could easily contract out the construction and set up of the gallery in a tender. $5-6 million to build a big box store? That seems resonable. But what we have in Downtown Ottawa is a former US Embassy building that probably alrady has enough security to protect everything from a loaded bomb truck.

    Inside the building some renovations for ventillation would suffice. Alternative locations for storage within the building? I would hope there is an alternative location offsite like the War Museum has or had before the new building was built(the name of the building escapes me…but I have visited it).

    If the problem is not enough storage space for these pieces currently that creates two problems:

    1. Where are the pieces stored now in storage?

    2. Perhaps a seperate tender should be put out for renovation, additions or new storage space for these artifacts in the Ottawa area so the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Civilization, the Portrait Gallery of Canada, the War Musuem and other could utilize it if need be.

    Our heritage is worth a fair amount to the country. See the tab paid for the restoration of the Library of Parliament alone and the possible amount the Parliament Buildings will require.

    But $44 million on a former US Embassy for a mere portrait gallery? It seems a little rich to me.

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