The Gehry-Mirvish Legacy will not be outsourced culture

It’s counter-intuitive for Torontonians.  We’ve become a bit shell-shocked with all the new condos.  More condos must be bad.

Someone knocking down a theatre? surely a bad person.

Mirvish Gehry project

The Mirvish Gehry project for King St in Toronto

If anyone in Toronto has the right to knock down a theatre to build a money-maker instead it’s David Mirvish.  Mirvish is the son of Honest Ed Mirvish, the proprietor of Honest Ed’s, and the owner-rescuer of the Royal Alexandra and the Old Vic in London.

No, I don’t mean that after one generation of philanthropy we can now allow David to stomp on what his father has done and reap some profits.  Nope.  I think those who made knee-jerk reactions against David Mirvish and his announced plan to demolish the Princess of Wales Theatre should look again.

There are several reasons I’m inclined to trust David Mirvish.

First of all, I am no fan of the Princess of Wales Theatre.  Like so many other big theatres in Toronto it’s a glorified Walmart, housing imported products from abroad.  Okay, maybe the PoW is not a dollar store, but its wares are essentially outsourced culture.  Where a Walmart is full of cheap goo-gahs made in China or India, a theatre like the PoW fill its seats employing foreign creative talent, occasionally putting a few of our actors to work.  But I don’t like a theatre presenting American musicals produced abroad to compete with Canadian theatres, because I fear there are simply too few dollars from consumers to easily absorb this kind of import.

That Mirvish proposes to put up an art gallery on the site is a wonderful bonus, as it says in the project press release:

The new 60,000‐square‐foot Mirvish Collection will be a destination for viewing contemporary abstract art from the exemplary collection of Audrey and David Mirvish. The collection was built over 50 years, beginning when David Mirvish ran a globally recognized art gallery in Toronto from 1963‐1978. The Mirvish Collection comprises works by leading artists including Jack Bush, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, David Smith and Frank Stella. The nonprofit Mirvish Collection, which will be free and open to the public, will present curated artist‐focused exhibitions that leverage the depth of the Mirvish holdings and will be available to other institutions. It will also host traveling exhibitions.


King St

Podium, Courtesy of Gehry International, Inc. (click to read feature on the development in an OCADU publication)

There’s so much to it, including The Gallery, those gorgeous buildings (that Gehry called “sculptures”), and “a new multi‐floor facility for the OCAD University Public Learning Centre for Visual Art, Curatorial Studies and Art History, including exhibition galleries, studios, seminar rooms, and a public lecture hall.”

I believe both Mirvish and Gehry are looking at their legacy, the way they’ll be remembered.  This could be a bit like the Rockefeller Centre in Toronto, a natural nexus for the local culture.

I am a bit concerned about the infrastructure questions; do we have the wherewithal to take care of those additional thousands of people plunked down in the middle of the city?  Are there schools for the children, adequate services for the new condo-dwellers who will arrive?  I suppose there will have to be, won’t there (and people who know a whole lot more about such things will certainly think about it).  These people will suddenly represent some of the missing bodies in the seats that kept the PoW from being profitable, so Mirvish will share his profits with his (former) competitors, although I suppose many will go straight to the Royal Alex.

I have a very good feeling about this, a project unlike anything I can recall in the GTA.  We have had some lovely institutional construction recently (the AGO, the ROM, the RCM, several charming buildings at the U of T).  But a big gorgeous building from an entrepreneur, expressing faith in the city without benefit of a fund-raising drive or government help? That’s unheard of.

Mirvish believes in us.  Gehry believes in us.

And so do I.

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