Visitors at Surrey Art Gallery view “Out of Sight,” an exhibit of works by photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Harold Edgerton, in January 2017. (File photo: Gord Goble)

New ‘Interactive Art Museum’ pitched for Surrey’s City Centre area

50,000-square-foot ‘cultural catalyst’ project would replace Surrey Art Gallery at Bear Creek Park

No question, the current exhibit at Surrey Art Gallery feels crammed in the given space.

The touring art show, called “Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India,” features many large-scale paintings and drawings, and the walls of the Bear Creek Park gallery are filled to capacity, pretty much.

“You’ll see that it completely fills the gallery, and there are many shows we can’t bring in because we just don’t have enough room for them,” noted Liane Davison, gallery director.

• READ MORE: Surrey gallery welcomes big, colourful Indian art on tour, from Jan. 15.

Davison, the city’s manager of visual and community arts, imagines a fix for the gallery’s need to grow, and it involves a move to Surrey’s City Centre area and a more engaging way of doing business.

A new Interactive Art Museum has been pitched as a “cultural catalyst” for Surrey’s downtown core, among the growing number of towers and civic/education hubs there.

Word of the proposed IAM, as it’s dubbed, was included in the City Centre Plan endorsed by Surrey city council in January 2017, but the first official mention of possibly moving Surrey Art Gallery to the City Centre area was in 2011.

A more concrete plan to build the proposed IAM may be part of an updated Parks, Recreation & Culture Strategic Plan due before city council later this month.

Surrey Art Gallery as part of the Surrey Arts Centre building at Bear Creek Park.

As proposed, the art museum would be close to 50,000 square feet in size, with a price tag of around $50 million, and a portion of that paid by private partners.

“It’s just a concept at this point,” stressed Davison, who calls the IAM proposal “very exciting, really positive” for Surrey’s City Centre.

“It’s being described generally as a 21st-century place for engaging with 21st-century art and culture,” she added, “so it’s a concept for a museum where you don’t necessarily come in and passively just look at art, but a place where you could learn, a place where you could make, a place where you could share and a place where you could experience art.

“And when we talk about interactive, absolutely we’re talking about interactive technology, (and) interactive media would be part of that vision.… It’s not necessarily a digital art museum – it would be part of it, but not only digital art.”

The museum would be “Surrey Art Gallery 2.0,” according to an introduction in the gallery’s Winter 2018 program guide, “responsive to the digital world and support studios for artists in residence, maker labls, exhibit halls and a small theatre.”

The IAM is among three “cultural catalyst projects” pitched for City Centre, along with a 1,200-seat performing arts centre and an “iconic” public art installation at city hall plaza.

• READ MORE: Surrey Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary celebrated at March 14 gala/concert, from Jan. 31.

If and when the IAM is build, the current Surrey Art Gallery space, as part of Surrey Arts Centre at Bear Creek Park, would be used for other purposes.

“I think what we’ve seen there, and gallery staff will you tell you, is that very often, our programming (at Surrey Arts Centre) is reaching capacity,” Davison said. “Last spring when we had our Family Day event, we had 800 people – and you can imagine 800 people filling the lobby of the arts centre.

“And if you come to some of our artist talks, we’ve had to move them from the program room at the gallery and into the Studio Theatre. We’re seeing those numbers for those events where people have something to do, where they’re actively involved, so we know we need to grow in those ways.”

One possible location for the IAM is the site currently home to North Surrey Recreation Centre, which will be razed sometime after a three-sheet ice facility is built at 12780 110th Avenue, south of Scott Road Skytrain station.

• READ MORE: Here’s a first look at Surrey’s two new arenas, from June 2017.

“Certainly the rec centre, where the arenas are, is something that’s being considered, or maybe it’s within a block or so of civic plaza,” Davison noted. “It would be nice to have it on the plaza, but there are a lot of things in play. We don’t know yet, and we don’t know the timing yet.

A view of “I Was Here,” an exhibit of Paulo Majano’s augmented-reality art, at Surrey Art Gallery in April 2016. (File photo: Gord Goble)

“I think we’d be looking for a partnership to make it happen, and there’s grant funding, too,” she added. “The city’s not going to be footing the whole bill, we’ll need to have partners come in and support creating a facility like this. We might be looking at a model, for example, at what Seattle Art Museum did, which is build the museum and then they built a business tower as part of the complex. We’re seeing that model for other new structures in other cities, with a tower associated, sometimes integrated. I don’t think we’re looking at a stand-alone facility here.”

Judy Villeneuve, chair of the city’s Public Art Advisory Committee, first heard of the proposed IAM at the Invest Surrey conference last fall.

“It’s something the arts staff have been considering and discussing, and we have the UrbanScreen in City Centre and it would build on that, certainly,” Villeneuve said. “There seems to be a lot of interest in it, based on community consultation done (for the Parks, Recreation & Culture Strategic Plan).

“This is just conceptual at the moment, and right now they’re trying to build partnerships and I think the design would come next. There are no drawings, nothing like that yet,” Villeneuve added.

“There is an interest in bringing together cultural facilities there, with SFU and Kwantlen in the area, coming to the area. There are many exciting possibilities within walking distance there. In travelling to other places, I know that tourists and even residents want to go to a cultural hub, like this could be. And with the (IAM), we want to start seeing more emphasis on capital projects for the arts sector. There’s been a lot for recreation and sports, so we’re really driving to ensure half the population is involved in the arts sector, in one way or another.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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