Sarnia-Lambton art gallery credited for revitalizing downtown core
Barabara Simpson, The Observer
May 6, 2015
Sarnia-Lambton’s Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery is drawing the attention of Ontario’s architecture community.
Kongats Architects, who designed the $10.3-million, three-year-old gallery, is being formally recognized for the project at the Ontario Association of Architects Awards this Friday.
“It’s a testament to the decision to build it where we built it and I think the integration of the repurposing of a historic building in the middle of the downtown that helped revitalize the downtown core…” said Lisa Daniels, the gallery’s curator and director.
“There was a lot of discussions around whether this was the right spot and whether we should do it and I think the county always held firm that this is about community building as well, not just about building a gallery.”
A total of 20 newly-built Canadian and international buildings designed by Ontario architects are being recognized from more than 175 entries submitted to the annual awards.
Among the winners are Toronto’s $72-million Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and Russia’s Mariinsky II ballet and opera house.
The Lambton County-funded art gallery was named as one of 10 honourable mentions in the design excellence category.
A panel of industry experts judged the projects based on their creativity, their context within their neighbourhoods, their sustainability, their business sense and their legacies.
County Warden Bev MacDougall said the recently-built gallery has helped revitalize the hub of downtown Sarnia: the corner of Lochiel and Christina streets.
“I always use to say that for as long as that corner was in decline, it was like a piece of litmus paper that registered the overall decline of the downtown,” said MacDougall, who is the former executive director of the now defunct Sarnia Business Improvement Area (BIA).
She will be attending the Hamilton awards with the county’s chief administrative officer Ron Van Horne and philanthropist Judith Alix.
The Alix family donated $1.5 million towards the $10.3-million cost of the new gallery. Additional large donations came in from the federal and county governments.
Earlier this year, gallery staff told county council it remains about $430,000 shy of its $3.5-million pledge to be raised through the community for the gallery.
But Daniels said there is no shortage of praise for the new gallery space from visitors.
“Most people from out of town are in awe there’s a building like this in Sarnia,” she said. “It’s almost like they didn’t expect we’d have a building like this in Sarnia or Lambton County.”
Later this year, the gallery is expected to draw in crowds of out-of-town visitors when it hosts the touring Beaverbrook exhibit featuring 75 masterworks.