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Group strikes deal for downtown Duncan property to build ‘world-class’ art centre

Intention is to create 30,000 sq. ft. gallery and education centre
A rendering of the proposed new art gallery from the Ingram Street perspective. (Submitted by the Cowichan Public Art Gallery)

The empty lot at 135 Kenneth St. in Duncan is planned to be an integral part of the new world-class art gallery, studio and educational centre that the Cowichan Public Art Gallery Society is proposing.

At its meeting on Feb. 22, Duncan city council voted unanimously to negotiate a purchase option with the non-profit society for the future acquisition of the property, which the city paid $351,000 for in 2019, that would be used for a section of the new 30,000 sq. ft. gallery.

As part of the agreement, the society agreed to pay the appraised value of the property at the time the option is exercised, expected to be within three years.


The society’s concepts for the new Cowichan Public Art Gallery, which is planned to be the largest art gallery on Vancouver Island, are substantial and far reaching.

Society president Jock Hildebrand told council that the gallery is expected to become a major cultural institution on Vancouver Island due to its unique programming, custom-designed buildings, and its strategic placement in the Duncan downtown area.

He said that through a combination of earned revenue, grants, and donations, the society intends to raise the $35 million needed to acquire the land, design and construct the building, and open the gallery.

Hildebrand said that in addition, the society will launch a parallel campaign to build the gallery’s collections, fit-out the gallery and offices, and establish the gallery as a community asset and a major attraction for visitors to Vancouver Island.

He pointed out that for every dollar spent on cultural projects, the nationally accepted multiplier is $11 in spin-off spending.


“The society will tap into federal, provincial, municipal and private foundation grants, as well as private donations to fund the project,” Hildebrand said.

“The anticipated time frame to secure funding for this project is 36 months; likely by July 1, 2024. This project presents both long and short-term financial benefits to the area, not only by creating jobs in the Cowichan Valley related to design and construction of the facility, but also 13 full-time and 18 part-time positions, as well as the related indirect and induced jobs that surround and develop around a project like this.”

Hildebrand said there will be new business opportunities through rental and lease of specific gallery properties, including a food and beverage area, gift shop, an all-purpose room, existing commercial kitchen in The Green Door building next door, as well as outside space rentals for special occasions; a commodity lacking in the downtown Duncan area.

In addition, Hildebrand said public washroom facilities are planned for the project and will be an added amenity in the downtown core.


Coun. Tom Duncan asked what financial support the society is looking for from the city, noting that the municipality now has to take on policing costs for the first time after its population topped 5,000 people in the last Census.

Hildebrand responded that the society is not asking for funding from the city at this time.

He said the gallery is a Cowichan Valley-wide project that will serve the whole community, so the society will be looking to the Cowichan Valley Regional District for financial assistance.

David Coulson, a member of the society’s board, added that council’s decision to negotiate a purchase option for the Kenneth Street property that would be exercised when the society’s fundraising efforts are over is all the support that’s needed from the city right now.

He said that with the option to purchase the Kenneth Street property, it will be easier to attain funding at higher levels.

“As a charity, we can now go to the next funding level saying we have property and property available to us so we have a legitimate cause to fundraise for,” Coulson said.

“There are about 90,000 people in the Valley and the city just has 5,000 so we’re not expecting the city to make any large contributions,” he said.

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Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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