Friday, December 18, 2009

A Solution for CCGG?

Waterloo's Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery never had a chance - at least not since it moved into its current building at the corner of Erb and Caroline. The architect created a building that is inaccessible, forbidding, and inefficient in terms of size.

Inaccessible - Far back from the corner, up steps and hidden behind some landscaping, the building is hard to get to, even if someone bothers to venture across the Waterloo Square parking lot and large intersection at Erb and Caroline. It's equally difficult to access from its parking lot, which is located behind it. The best thing anyone ever did for the building was to purchase a 99 cent neon orange "Open/Closed" sign that lets us poor citizens know when we should hike up to it and when not. The front doors are convenient to nothing.

Forbidding - The architectrual style is 20th century fortress. It's not unlike the last reno of Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario - you know, the one that was so disastrous that they had to spend hundreds of millions to get Frank Gehry to undo it. It is the opposite of welcoming.

Size-Inefficient - The building simply isn't a gallery. With its soaring ceilings and sparse rooms, it's a great place for a public lecture or reception (I've been to several), but it's not sufficient to attract people to see art. For displays, there are two rooms: one big, for visiting exhibits, and one smaller, which has some model historical kilns and stuff like that. I've been a few times; my reaction was always that the admission (which was $2 and is now $5) was very low but still too much. To add insult to injury, the building's volume is so large that it must cost an arm and a leg to heat/cool.

I'm not blaming the management. The gallery store is the finest gift shop in town, and has been for years. The gift shop is always more interesting than the gallery. The building is just not good enough. The gallery is doomed. It is a bust.

So here's my solution: move the CCGG out of its current building to somewhere more accessible. Move it to Waterloo Square or one of the empty storefronts on King Street. (The gallery could have its shop downstairs and exhibit space upstairs.) Sell the building, or tear it down and put up something more usable, and use the money to create an endowment fund for the gallery.

Instead of being a grandiose monolith, the new gallery could be more like Waterloo's Button Factory or Harbinger, providing space for local artists to have short-term shows. Like CIGI and the Perimeter Institute, it could engage in more public outreach with lectures and classes. Like the old Ontario Craft Council, it could be a resource for local artists: creating a directory, holding contests, providing networking opportunities.

Then, instead of being a drain on public resources and a white elephant, CCGG might become a beloved community institution.


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