A rendering of the winning design concept for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, by KPMB Architects with Omar Gandhi Architect, Jordan Bennett Studio, Elder Lorraine Whitman, Public Work and Transsolar.

Halifax councillors are now considering a smaller contribution to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Construction is set to begin on the new gallery, located at the bottom of Salter Street on Lower Water Street, this year. After choosing a winning design concept in November 2020, the gallery’s director and CEO, Nancy Noble, went to council to ask for a contribution to the project, budgeted at $130 million.

The provincial government is spending $70 million, the federal government has agreed to put in $30 million, and AGNS received a $10 million donation from The Sobey Foundation.

As the Halifax Examiner reported a year ago Wednesday, AGNS was looking for $7 million from HRM, spread out over five years:

“We want to build a new waterfront gallery to improve access to art and boost economic development and tourism,” Noble said.

“We’re going to expand our programs, our exhibitions and collections.”

Mayor Mike Savage asked whether AGNS would be able to make it work without a contribution from HRM.

“It will be a lot more difficult for us to raise the full amount if we don’t have some contribution from the city,” Noble said.

“It’s a very difficult time and I recognize that, but it’s also made our job difficult too because raising money isn’t as easy as it was 18 months ago. It is integral, it absolutely is integral.”

The committee agreed at the time to consider the request, but the money wasn’t added to the 2021-2022 budget. A new staff report on the request came to the Audit and Finance Standing Committee on Wednesday with a recommendation that council consider contributing $3 million to the new gallery — $600,000 per year for the next five years.

“Due to municipal fiscal constraints, it is recommended that the municipality not provide the full amount requested,” community developer Jamie MacLellan wrote in the report.

“To align more closely to previous contributions to capital projects, a contribution of $3 million is recommended.”

The committee voted to recommend council’s budget committee consider the funding as part of the budget adjustment list. That’s a list of items from which councillors pick and choose at the end of the budget-building process. If council committed to the $600,000 in the 2022-2023 budget, municipal staff would include the amount in the next four years’ budgets as well.

“It’s not going to be an easy ask for anybody,” Savage said. “But, to me, if you ignore art, you do it at your peril. I think it’s an important thing for this city.”

Coun. Kathryn Morse was the sole vote against the proposal, citing environmental concerns with the new gallery’s position on the waterfront.

“I’m really concerned about contributing to a building that’s in an area that’s identified as a high coastal flood risk,” Morse said.

The building, like any provincially-owned facility, won’t be subject to HRM’s permitting or design rules. In the staff report, MacLellan wrote that “the applicant has indicated interest in incorporating coastal resilient design measures to address the site’s vulnerability to sea level rise and extreme water levels.”

A young white man with a dark beard, looking seriously at the viewer in a black and white photo

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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