Art Gallery of Nova Scotia paused

What makes a Nova Scotia construction project worthwhile?

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has indefinitely postponed construction of the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS). The announcement came in July following a reassessment of costs. What began as a project of just over $136.5 million has spiked to an estimated $162.5 million. 

Houston’s reasoning for the sudden spike isn’t as shocking as the figure: inflation is to blame. The same inflation is hitting the province hard this year with increasing costs in other areas, including groceries and housing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Halifax experienced a blow to arts, culture and entertainment. According to a report by Statistics Canada, 2020 saw a devastating decline in revenue for book publishing, motion pictures, sound recording and theatre across the country.

The peak of COVID-19 saw governments deem the arts non-essential. Health restrictions getting in the way of events and lack of funding made that obvious. Is the AGNS being sidelined with the same label in the aftermath?

Put your money where your mouth is

An exhibit in the Maud Lewis Gallery at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. A new building to house this house and other exhibits, planned to be built on the Halifax waterfront, had its construction postponed “indefinitely” in July by the Nova Scotia Government. (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)

The big question on Haligonian minds must be, “Where is the money going?” 

The AGNS received commitments of $30 million from the federal government, $70 million from the provincial government, $7 million from HRM and $10 million from the Sobey Foundation.

So far, Houston hasn’t commented on if or where the money saved from the paused project will be used. 

Halifax is due for improvement in areas such as education and medical care. Projects including the Halifax Infirmary expansion are attractive with the promise of a new outpatient centre, cancer centre, inpatient centre and research spaces. 

The tender for the Infirmary expansion was to be awarded in the spring of 2023 but, like the AGNS, has been delayed. Fortunately, the outpatient clinic portion of the project is ongoing and predicted to be finished on time. That will cost $259.4 million on its own. 

The provincial government also passed an order in July to provide $8 million more to the Springhill elementary school construction project. The Springhill project, announced in 2018 and due to finish by 2023, is also limping through inflation-driven cost increases. 

There’s a trend here.

What about the arts? 

Entrance to the Maud Lewis Gallery at the current Art Gallery of Nova Scotia building on Hollis Street. (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)

While education and medical care are noble causes, it’s difficult to evaluate the arts in comparison. 

According to the Foundation for the Atlantic Canada Arts Education Curriculum, “Learning in the arts contributes to an empathetic world view and an appreciation and understanding of the relationship among peoples and their environment.”

However, not all funding for arts in N.S. has been cut short. Houston announced a $2 million investment in the Pictou deCoste Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Granted, the pause on the AGNS reeks of deprioritization, but it also offers room for reflection. What can we do as a community to continue supporting the arts while new projects are stalled?

Arts enrich our lives and as Atlantic Canadians, we have much to share. Dal students and Haligonians can still support art in HRM by visiting places such as Argyle Fine Art on Barrington Street or The Prow Gallery on Lower Water Street. 

The current Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is also open to the public at the Halifax and Yarmouth locations. 

Hope on the horizon

If the AGNS construction depends on the cost of building supplies, Halifax may be in luck. The cost of lumber in Canada is finally falling, dropping a whopping 62 per cent in July. A recent report by Bruce Frisko of CTV News suggests the “cooling housing market” as a possible reason for the decline. Reduced rates are impacting the U.S. more than Canada, but it’s possible Nova Scotians will see affordable lumber for some time. 

Will available building supplies revive AGNS plans? It’s too early to tell, but the HRM art community can hope. Looking for your fill of art in Halifax? There’s always the Dalhousie Art Gallery to explore. Check out Kim Morgan’s, “Blood and Breath, Skin and Dust” exhibit, opening Sept. 16.

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