$1.75M donation earmarked for stalled AGNS waterfront home shifted to programming

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia as seen on June 26, 2024. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia as seen on June 26, 2024. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is making use of $1.75 million that was originally donated to help it build a new home on the Halifax waterfront.

Two Sobey foundations promised a total of $10 million to the project, representing a third of the $30 million that donors have pledged as part of the gallery's share toward the cost of the project, originally estimated at $137 million.

The foundations had given the gallery $1.75 million of their pledge prior to the Houston government's decision to put a hold on it in July 2022.

Gallery CEO Sarah Moore Fillmore told CBC News the decision by the foundations was not a sign donors were withdrawing their support for the gallery's plans for a new home.

"It was not done to signal any kind of shift away from support of the building," said Moore Fillmore. "It was to recognize that the gallery is doing work here, today and now and wanted to support the work in the most immediate way possible."

Asked if any other donations had been withdrawn from the capital campaign, Moore Fillmore noted, "There was one small donation that was withdrawn but other than that, no."

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is making use of $1.75 million that was originally donated to help it build a new home on the Halifax waterfront. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Moore Fillmore could not say when the capital campaign would restart.

Bernard Doucet, who oversees the Sobey family's philanthropic endeavours, said the Sobey and Donald R Sobey foundations decided the money could be better put to use to raise the gallery's profile than sit in an account waiting for the project to restart.

"We decided that it was better for the gallery to be able to use the existing funds while the building and capital program project were on hold to amplify its brand globally, prepare itself for a bigger entrance at a later date," said Doucet, who was quick to say the family remained supportive of plans for a new AGNS home.

Sobey's money used as revenue

"That commitment remains as it was announced," he said. "In the meantime, the gallery, in its existing building, has to thrive. It was better to equip them with the existing disbursed funds to do that."

The gallery decided to use the Sobey's money as revenue over the next five years. This past year, it used $425,000 of the money to offer free admission to the gallery as part of a pilot project that ran from October 2023 until January 2024, and to acquire a retrospective by New York artist Joan Jonas titled Moving Off the Land II.

According to the gallery's 2023-24 annual report, released Wednesday, "Jonas has sought refuge in the highlands of Cape Breton since the 1970s, an area that has heavily influenced her decades-long artistic practice."

According to the gallery, the free admission boosted visits by almost 80 per cent over the previous three-month period and group visits by more than 200 per cent. A quarter of those people were first-time visitors to the AGNS.

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