By Herald on June 10, 2021.
Al Beeber – Lethbridge Herald
A multi-million renovation project at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery will allow it to facilitate different events and help invigorate Galt Gardens, said communications and design manager Lexi Pendzich Thursday.
The $5.78 million project was approved recently as part of the city’s Capital Improvement program.
Renovations will included needs-based improvements to the gallery, a food services/catering kitchen and patio/programming space.
The renovations will also include a collaborative pop-up bistro, a loading dock and an outdoor patio that will reach into the downtown park.
The building housing SAAG, an old library, celebrates its 100th year next year, said Pendzich.
The gallery underwent renovations several years ago, said Pendzich, who has been on the SAAG board of directors for three years and in Lethbridge for six.
“The important thing to remember here is the gallery is a city-owned facility so the city’s funds are being used to enhance its own facility. And as part of the renovations, Galt Gardens as well.
“In conversations with stakeholders it came up more than a few times that the perception, especially from the City is that the gallery turns its back on the park. And we don’t want to turn our back on the park. We want to engage the park and we want to reinvigorate the park and bring some fresh energy and enthusiasm and interest to the park.
“So certainly Galt Gardens is facing more than its fair share of challenges, but we as a board and as an institution, strongly feel that the community needs bold steps to be taken in order to turn downtown around. And reinvigorating, re-energizing Galt Gardens is a big part of that.
“So this renovation of course will not be a standalone solution to the problems of downtown but we do believe that it will be a much-needed step in the right direction. And as I said to council during our submissions to defend this proposal, I personally feel that downtown Lethbridge is at a critical turning point where attitudes are being entrenched and behaviours are being entrenched.”
Pendzich said if residents and visitors continue to avoid downtown that behaviour “will become the norm. Those habits will be entrenched.
“We want to change those attitudes, we want to make downtown welcoming and exciting and give people something to come and see and do. And feel safe while they’re doing it.”
“So before those negative perceptions are so entrenched we can’t change people’s minds and get them back downtown, we need to take these bold steps. Yes we’ll be the first, but we won’t be the last and we won’t be alone.”
The gallery’s patio space onto the park will part of those steps.
“The patio space itself can go onto the park but the park is city property; we can’t just unilaterally decide we’re going to build a patio half a mile into Galt Gardens. This is very much going to be hand-in-hand with the city. They will be approving things every step of the way and we will be working with them.”
The footprint of the actual gallery space won’t really change with the renovations, she said.
“That’s not the vision. The gallery has a parking lot that we can utilize without expanding the footprint.”
What will enhance exhibitions, though, is the construction of the loading dock. Right now, materials have to be brought into the gallery, sometimes awkwardly, from the front or rear doors with no dedicated dock.
This, she said, has impacted the types of exhibits SAAG can mount.
The art park is envisioned to incorporate a sculpture garden and interactive installations, she sad.
“We want to get creative; it’s all part of injecting that creative energy into the project at every turn.”
“We envision it to eventually incorporate an interactive art park. . .that’s part of that engagement. We want to engage with the park and the community and everyone in Lethbridge. And give everyone something to be excited about.
Renovations are expected to be done over several stages, she said.
“This first city-funded stage is the first stage and then the second would be building upon that critical infrastructure the City provided in the first stage. The art park, unfortunately won’t likely be part of Stage One because that’s just not part of the scope. But we have plans to execute very quickly Stage Two and move this forward so it’s not a decades-long trickle until the vision can be fully realized.”
SAAg will have to seek outside funding for the second stage she said, through grants from other funding sources and private donors.
SAAG, she said, “is an impressive little gallery. It certainly punches above its weight and we just want to make sure our facility reflects that.”
The catering kitchen will be to utilized to help SAAG host special events such as weddings, corporate retreats and conferences, she said.
“The idea is to become a cultural hub for downtown.”
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