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This article was published 23/7/2017 (875 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The fate and scope of the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s $65-million Inuit Art Centre will be decided within the next six weeks.
According to Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) president and CEO Stephen Borys, the current plans for the centre are in jeopardy if the province doesn’t renew a $15-million commitment made by the former NDP government.
And the clock is ticking.
Borys said if the commitment isn’t confirmed by the end of August, the project could be delayed up to six months and upwards of $15 million in federal and private funding already committed to the project could be lost.
"This is not just an art project. It's a cultural project, it's a reconciliation project, it's an economic project."
If the province cancels the $15 million promised under the former NDP government in November 2015, Borys said the WAG will literally have to go back to the drawing board to significantly redesign what is proposed to be a four-storey, 40,000-square-foot facility.
"It’s hot where I am right now and I’m sweating, but that’s nothing compared to what I’m waiting on," Borys said, when reached near Portage la Prairie on a sweltering Thursday afternoon. "I’m nervous but... no news right now is good news. I really believe that after this long — and we’ve had a dialogue with the current government for over a year — if it was clearly ‘no,’ I would hope they’d just tell us. Then we’d be able to make some immediate decisions in terms of the size of the building and the design and what we can do.
"But until we know, it’s a bit of a holding pattern."
The dilemma: the gallery needs to submit tenders by late August for construction to begin October to December. If not, construction can’t start until April or May.
However, the federal government’s commitment of $15 million expires March 31. Whatever hasn’t been spent of those funds will be lost, Borys said, noting current preparations — clearing the site for the centre, adjacent to the WAG — would only account for about half of the federal funds.
"If we haven’t spent it, we’ll lose millions and we won’t get it back," he said.
Meanwhile, about $5 million of the $21 million in private-sector gifts is contingent on acquiring provincial funding, he said.
So without the provincial funds, the project stands to lose almost $30 million in total funding the WAG considered secure prior to the Progressive Conservative-led Manitoba government’s decision to review all project funding initiatives announced under the former NDP government.
"We could never proceed as we are planning," Borys said, stressing the WAG continues to communicate with provincial officials.
Culture Minister Rochelle Squires said Friday in a statement to the Free Press the province understands "the urgency and tight timelines. We will have a decision well before the deadline of late August."
"The government of Manitoba has always been a strong supporter of one of our province’s most important cultural institutions," the statement said.
"Plans for the Inuit Art Centre show an innovative programming hub that celebrates Inuit art and Indigenous cultures and offers educational opportunities for all ages. We would like to see this facility continue to thrive as a world-class attraction for visitors, and its expansion plans would help grow tourism in Manitoba and our economy.
"We continue to work with the arts and culture community, in partnership with the private sector, to ensure ongoing development and investment."
One concern for Borys is such decisions are being made in a "current climate where (hospital) emergency rooms are being closed."
"This is not just an art project," he said. "It’s a cultural project, it’s a reconciliation project, it’s an economic project. But also we’ve lined up all the ducks in a row. We’re not asking for a cent of more operational money from the province. We have money from other partners flowing for the next five years.
"I have no desire to antagonize or make matters worse," Borys added. "If I was going to the province to ask for $15 million to add a new wing to exhibit more art, I wouldn’t expect a cent. But this project is a whole new dialogue, and it’s a whole new road to the North."
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Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.