Leadership of the Remai Modern art gallery defended their budget to city council Monday, as several councillors raised concern over “ambitious” revenue targets for the new facility.
The art gallery on River Landing had their ask for $5.5 million in total city funding approved unanimously during the first day of budget deliberations, but the decision came after nearly an hour of questions over their revenue assumptions.
Remai Modern’s budget included an increase of just under $400,000 from the 2017 budget, as the gallery enters their first full year of operations.
Fundraising Chair Herb McFaull told council their projected revenues for 2018 stand at $5.3 million. The money is expected to come from a combination of admissions, space rentals, donations, federal and provincial grants and gift shop sales.
“It’s an area of vulnerability for the gallery,” McFaull said, adding the revenue prediction represented 49 per cent of their operating budget.
However, Ward 9 councillor Bev Dubois raised concern the Remai Modern would fall well short of their projections.
“I do think this budget is too ambitious and too aggressive,” she said. “I do hope it comes to fruition.”
McFaull assured Dubois and other councillors the gallery would be able to absorb lower-than-expected revenues by adjusting special exhibits and other programming at the Remai Modern.
He noted the city’s funding pays for the building and staff, while the self-generated revenue is what the gallery will use to fund their “experience,” making it unlikely they’d be back to ask for more money from council.
Coun. Darren Hill also questioned the gallery’s projections on rental space revenue. He said several constituents have told him they consider the Remai Modern’s rental costs to be high compared to other downtown river view properties.
After McFaull suggested their river view rooms had generated a lot of interest, Hill said interest doesn’t translate to revenue.
“What percentage of inquiries have actually ended up booking the facilities?” he asked, a query that wasn’t directly answered.
Ward 3 Coun. Ann Iwanchuk tacked on to Hill’s concerns, noting as a public facility the Remai Modern’s prices shouldn’t be prohibitive.
“It’s a public building and I want to make sure it’s accessible to the public,” she said.
Remai Modern CEO Gregory Burke said much of their rental space costs stems from the prices charged by their food services provider, leaving it largely out of the gallery’s control.
After the Remai Modern budget was passed with no changes, Burke was asked about their revenue projections.
“I like to be ambitious,” he said with a smile.
GALA INVITE DEBACLE
A bizarre exchange also took place during the Remai Modern’s budget debate involving Coun. Dubois.
The Ward 9 representative took issue with the gallery’s board for an apparent non-invite to a preview dinner and gala held on Oct. 19.
“That is very disappointing to me and to other members of council,” she said.
She noted only the mayor and two councillors who sat on the Remai Modern board were invited to the preview event.
“I still have not been to the gallery because we weren’t invited,” she added.
Asked about the invites, Burke said the “opening event” was a civic ceremony which all councillors were invited to, but didn’t refer to the gala specifically.
Dubois took issue with Burke’s comments on social media, asking for an apology. She was then hit with criticism from members of the public.
“Sounds like sour grapes over a swanky free dinner,” one user wrote.