Mendel refocuses funding push

by Matt Kruchak
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
March 31, 2006

Backlit by the sun, three architectural drawings hung in windows, themselves a work of art. But standing in the warm sunlight, Terry Graff saw the expansion project of the Mendel Art Gallery in the cold light of day.

It's been a week since the director of the gallery discovered the project wasn't receiving federal centennial funding. It had requested $7.5 million from the fund, worth $10.5 million, to help offset the cost of its $18-million plan.

The expansion will add 16,600 square feet, increasing the size of the gallery by 61 per cent. The gallery now stores a portion of its 5,500-piece collection off-site because the building lacks space. Under the expansion, galleries will be enlarged to house bigger shows, and officials are working with Joni Mitchell to create a cafe in her name.

Graff met Thursday with representatives of the federal agency that handled the centennial funds -- Western Economic Diversification (WD) -- to discuss the reasons why the gallery received the equivalent of a blank canvas.

"Basically we were told we just didn't quite cut it," he said. "We didn't get a definitive answer."

Organizations were asked to submit proposals to be graded using a point system. Prairieland Park received $4 million, Persephone Theatre got $2.5 million, the City of Saskatoon received $3 million for riverbank development and Wanuskewin Heritage Park was awarded $1 million. The money was earmarked to the city by Ottawa to celebrate the province's 100th birthday.

"We put our best foot forward," Graff said. "We still strongly feel that our project would have been the perfect fit for a legacy project related to celebrating heritage and culture in Saskatchewan."

The gallery's plan to begin construction this fall will now be pushed back a year. Graff was invited by WD to submit a proposal for centennial funding, and he said he was told by Heritage Canada not to submit one to its cultural spaces grant program.

But Graff, along with gallery supporters, shifted their focus during a Thursday press conference. They're going back to their original plan and applying for a grant with the cultural spaces program. In the past, the process has taken about a year, Graff said.

The gallery secured $4.5 million from the city for the expansion and is waiting to hear if the province follows with the same amount.

"We feel confident that the province will see the value of our project," Graff said. "I think there's a real need for a cultural infrastructure fund to support the growth and development of culture in Saskatchewan."

The remaining money is expected to be raised from the private sector.

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