The history of Centre Pasquart began on 8 December 1990 with the opening of the first exhibition in a part of the former hospital. These spaces were renovated and adapted with the support of the city of Biel, the Swiss government, the canton of Bern and private individuals, as well as the participating associations.
In 1992 the Photoforum joined the Art Centre, followed by the Art Association which had decided to leave the Art Cellar in Biel‘s Ring in order to open an exhibition space and an office in the Centre Pasquart complex. The SEVA Foundation made 150‘000 Swiss francs available to the two institutions for the refurbishment of the rooms. In autumn 1993 the Filmpodium moved permanently into the building next door.
This loose collaboration led to the successful development of Centre Pasquart. The decision of the city council of 21 August to discontinue the grant to Centre Pasquart from mid 1993, with the aim of using the former hospital for other purposes, was therefore all the more surprising to those in charge. The protest raged on all fronts, however, with the Art Centre, Art Association, Photoforum and Filmpodium intervening, joined by the Swiss Art Association, the SIA, the Biel Museums Association and a committee of supporters. As a result the council approved two motions on 22 October 1992. The petitions placed by Marie-Pierre Walliser and Jürg Gerber aimed at retaining the approved financial means and the activities of Centre Pasquart.
A decisive impetus was given in 1993 by the will of Paul Ariste Poma who left a legacy of 7 Million Francs for the benefit of an art museum on condition that the city of Biel doubled the amount and that the terms should be accepted within a period of two years. Thanks to the significant support of the lawyer and executor of the will, Marc F. Suter, it was possible to negotiate terms with the Biel authorities so that the legacy could be put into effect. On 30 May 1994 the founding document of the Centre Pasquart Foundation was signed. This set out the organisational structure as well as the areas of responsibility of the city of Biel and the various associations involved. In the referendum of 22 October 1995 the people of Biel voted with a large majority for the project.
On 4 September 1996 the first grant contract between the Biel authorities and the Foundation Advisory Committee was signed. This determined the amount of support for the years 1996 to 2000. On the initiative of the Foundation Advisory Committee the basic tenets for an architectural competition were put together. The competition was launched and was won by the Basel practice of Diener&Diener. The choice of an internationally known practice was proved to be positive in every respect. The building was awarded the ATU prize of the canton of Bern and the way it functions proves today that its structure is entirely at the service of the exhibitions it houses.
However, the building approval could not be given within the usual timeframe and the project overstepped the sum approved by the council. The necessary changes to the plans were nonetheless accepted by over 80% of the voters in a second referendum. The renovation of the hospital and the extension were delayed by almost a year, beginning only in May 1998. During the building work the Centre Pasquart concentrated on moving the administration offices into the villa and on the inventories of the collection and the organisation’s small library. Meanwhile the partner organisations continued to run their programmes.
The Foundation Advisory Committee approved a budget to replace the seating in the Filmpodium. It also agreed to the proposal of the GSMBA (now Visarte) to use the space next door for exhibitions, under the name “espace libre“. Towards the end of the construction period it became increasingly difficult to adhere to the budget of Fr. 9’500’000; the final cost amounted to Fr. 11’089’000.
The Foundation came through a difficult financial crisis, caused on the one hand by the increased costs for the building work and, on the other, by unforeseen expenditure. Thanks to the value of the Poma legacy, that benefitted from an advantageous interest rate, and the sale of the land belonging to the legacy, the Foundation was at least able to pay off its debts and return to black figures.
On 4 and 5 December 1999 the Centre opened its doors for a viewing of the spaces. The opening celebrations took place on New Year’s Eve, with the preview of the first exhibition, „Au centre l’artiste“ on 1 January 2000. The Art Centre has developed and grown from strength to strength ever since. It occupies an important place among regional and national museums and has an increasingly international reputation.
The years 2007 and 2008 were marked by the vacation of the old people’s home in the basement and the occupation of this part of the building by the Foundation, as well as the sale of the villa next door. The proceeds from the sale were used by the Foundation to renovate the basement of the Art Centre and to install the administrative offices in this area. In addition it adapted the former entrance area for the use of the Art Association, the Swiss Sculpture Exhibition Foundation, the Photoforum and the Biel Photography Days. The remaining spaces were rented out as an art gallery and artist’s studios. The proceeds that remained from the sale were invested in a fund for the maintenance of the building. In the Art Centre vicinity the partner organisations continued their activities and created a group of members with an interest in the Centre Pasquart.