Calgary’s Glenbow Museum is set to undergo a $115-million renovation intended to transform the space into a local and national “cultural icon.”
The project could start as early as October and will see a complete interior and exterior makeover to better engage visitors in a “powerful and positive” manner, said museum president Nicholas Bell.
“For all of the people of Calgary who love to tell us how much the museum means to them and how much it has been part of their lives for the last 50 years, I would almost say that it is in spite of the building. We have this great program but we’re in a locked box,” said Bell.
“So now we see this golden opportunity to open this box up, to make it transparent, to make it welcoming to the streets, to show people what’s inside and to really give people a place that has that same community feel that we all recognize as so successful in the Central Library.”
He said the organization still needs to secure some of the funds for the project, but is in conversation with municipal and federal partners. The provincial government has already pledged $40 million.
As soon as the $115 million is procured, the Glenbow and its renovation team are “shovel ready,” said Bell, who says their priority is bringing light into the building, located at the intersection of 9th Avenue and 1st Street S.E.
“One real benefit of this renovation will be to open up more of our back of house. Right now, a very small part of our building is publicly accessible,” said Bell.
“We have an extraordinary depth and breadth of collections. We have a quarter of a million art and artifacts that mostly are unseen. People come and see great exhibitions and galleries of our collections but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
It’s estimated the project will take two-and-a-half years to complete and will create upwards of 650 jobs. The Glenbow has finalized its project team, which includes people from Calgary-based firms
Bell said all of the local companies had a personal connection to the Glenbow and share the vision to create an architecturally captivating community space.
While some of the building’s original character will be preserved, Bell said much of the 1970s finish will be stripped away. While under construction, the museum plans to make some of its programming mobile.
Bell said there is the occasional person who asks whether it’s the right time to spend money on a museum.
“The answer is, I don’t think there is a more important time to do this. Cities like Calgary need places where they can come together and understand our commonalities and understand how we are connected with each other,” he said.
“Never more so than during a major economic crisis and a major health crisis do we need to provide people with the infrastructure to be able to build the future.”
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