News / Calgary

Contemporary Calgary walks away from negotiations to take over old planetarium

The arts group had been in negotiations with the city for more than three years

A file photo of Pierre Arpin, director and CEO of Contemporary Calgary, standing at the bottom of the planetarium’s spiralling staircase.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

A file photo of Pierre Arpin, director and CEO of Contemporary Calgary, standing at the bottom of the planetarium’s spiralling staircase.

Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley is disappointed in the city’s administration after Contemporary Calgary chose to walk away from negotiations to take over the old planetarium space downtown.

“We chose Contemporary Calgary after a laborious process,” said Woolley. “They won the proposal to be at the old science centre, they’ve raised millions of dollars to support this effort, and the City of Calgary has been incapable of working towards getting them in this place and getting them up and running.

“This foot dragging, I find, to be extremely frustrating.”

The decision came hot on the heels of a decision from the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation to no longer pursue a new stadium with the City.

Contemporary Calgary board member D’Arcy Levesque said they’ve been negotiating with city officials for more than three years to transform the space into a new art gallery.

They were expecting to sign an agreement that would set them up in the old planetarium for at least 10 years.

However, the city recently sent them a letter saying they could move into the space temporarily for 33 months, but weren’t prepared to negotiate for a longer lease until they had raised more than 90 per cent of the $32 million capital campaign.

“We just didn’t think that’s realistic, and we’re not about to embark on a major capital campaign without more than a slim assurance from the city that we’ll be in there,” Levesque said. “In our view, they put forward conditions that make it virtually impossible for us to move forward on fundraising for that particular venue.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it was always going to be a challenging project, as Contemporary Calgary had to raise the money and figure out an operating model that wouldn’t take funding from other arts organizations in the city.

“City council committed about $24 million to the upgrades to that building and the upgrades to the planetarium with the full understanding that this was going to be tough, and if it didn’t work we would have to find a new model for contemporary art and go back to the drawing board,” he said. “And it looks like that’s where we are now.

A three-year project

Contemporary Calgary was formed when the City of Calgary asked for expressions of interest to repurpose the old science centre building. Three visual arts organizations put forward the submission together to create a modern and contemporary art gallery.

These organizations were the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary and the Art Gallery of Calgary, before they merged to become Contemporary Calgary.

They spent the next three years raising money to pay off their debts and begin contributing to the transformation of the space.

Contemporary Calgary temporarily homeless

After the groups amalgamated into Contemporary Calgary, they moved into a smaller location on Stephen Avenue.

Recently, however, they sold this location to raise money for capital costs toward the planetarium.

As a result, Contemporary Calgary will have to move out by January.

With public support, Levesque said he’s confident they can identify some alternative spaces, and they’re planning to share those plans with Calgarians in early October.

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