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The Winnipeg Art Gallery plans to leave a legacy of its 2012 centennial year by erecting a $30-million Inuit Art Centre on the site of its current studio building.
The facility will showcase the WAG's public collection of Inuit art -- the world's largest -- and serve as an international centre of excellence for education, research, study and celebration of the unique Canadian art genre, WAG director Stephen Borys told the Free Press.
Plans call for a three-level structure connected to the main WAG building, with about 45,000 square feet of space for exhibitions, art classes, research, studios and collection storage.
The current WAG Studio building, the former Mall Medical Building that sits next door to the WAG at the corner of Memorial Boulevard and St. Mary Avenue, will be demolished. The educational programs that have operated there for 15 years will have new space in the Inuit Centre.
The WAG, Canada's oldest civic art museum, hopes to break ground sometime during its centennial celebration in 2012-13, and open the Inuit Centre doors in 2014.
Of the WAG's total collection of about 25,000 art objects, close to half -- more than 11,000 -- are Inuit sculptures, drawings, prints and textiles.
"It's important that people understand how important that Inuit collection is, and the responsibility we have to bring it to an international stage," Borys said. "We have local, regional, national and international support (for the new centre)."
During the centennial season, extending from fall 2012 to summer 2013, "There will be Canadian art, European art and American art featured, but rising above them all, there's going to be a truly celebratory approach to the Inuit collection. It must be given its due."
The institution is aiming to raise $30 million: $18 million for the Inuit Art Centre, $7 million for the Art Studio component, and $5 million for an endowment. It has started the quiet phase of the capital campaign and will launch the two-year public phase in the fall of 2011.
This is the first major expansion project, and first public capital campaign, since the current building was built in 1970. Borys has had preliminary funding discussions with all three levels of government.
Borys is chairing an architectural committee that will include members of the Inuit community. It may decide to hold a design competition, he said.
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The University of Winnipeg and the Hudson's Bay Company recently approached the WAG, suggesting that the Inuit Art Centre be housed in a proposed aboriginal research and cultural centre on two vacant floors of the downtown Bay building, Borys said. But the WAG board declined.
"I definitely want to work with them on aboriginal initiatives, including Inuit, but we feel strongly that the Inuit Art Centre should be here on this property," he said.
The WAG is a world leader in Inuit art curatorship and scholarship. Since 1964, it has organized about 140 Inuit art exhibitions and produced more than 40 catalogues and other publications.
The bulk of the Inuit holdings have been acquired through significant gifts from collectors. "We have a huge responsibility to honour those gifts (and) honour the culture," Borys said. "You can't miss Inuit culture when you come into the WAG now, but there's more that we need to do."
Inuit art will continue to be shown in the main WAG galleries after the centre is open, the director added.
Here's some more news from WAG director Stephen Borys:
-- In the spring of 2012, the WAG will be the first Canadian institution to present American Chronicles: The Art of NormanRockwell, a show of 50 paintings and more than 300 Saturday Evening Post covers by the iconic American illustrator. Many of Rockwell's works dealt with civil rights, giving the show a tie-in to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
-- In the current season, the WAG opens Wanda Koop . . . On the Edge of Experience on Sept. 11. Another major exhibition coming soon (Dec. 10-Feb. 27) is The Baroque World of Fernando Botero, a retrospective of 100 works by the celebrated Colombian artist, known for wry portraits that inflate subjects' proportions so they appear rotund.
-- The WAG and Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art are partnering with the University of Winnipeg in a new master's degree program in curatorial practice. Students will do hands-on internships at the WAG or Plug In. It's hoped that the first students will start the program a year from now. Borys also hopes to see a chair in Inuit Studies established at U of W or the University of Manitoba.