Our vision takes shape around a simple gesture: the return of Etherington House back into a home. We invoke the spirit of Agnes Etherington’s 1954 bequest of her house to Queen’s to “further the cause of art and community”— now for the 21st century. Bringing this historic house back to life, we make hospitality the guiding institutional ethos of Agnes Reimagined. We’ve inhabited this vision from the start of our journey: an unprecedented community-centred architectural design process drives transformation and change, from the ground up.
“The process is proving as important as the outcome: by bringing together community members around the kitchen table, the open-ended conversations around the future of the gallery echo the way women have gathered for generations, in many cultures, including in traditional Indigenous communities, and in Agnes Etherington’s own day and age.”
– Tiffany Shaw in Canadian Architect
Schematic Design is a phase of collaboration with architects, and in our case, community, to experiment with design solutions that give form to the vision. It addresses the needs of the program and works creatively with space allocation and adjacency to brings the vision to life.
Design Development digs deeper into the more practical design elements and brings other areas to bear on building construction, including mechanical, electrical and structural engineering. This phase also hones the design based on the users’ specific needs for each space.
Beginning in May 2024 through to September 2026, Agnes will be operating at an offsite location as demolition, construction and renovations take place at 36 University Avenue.
“Like art, great architecture is a transformation of tradition and can change the way we see, experience, and relate to each other and the world. True transformation invites new ways of thinking, creative processes, new forms and expression. Agnes Reimagined offers a rare opportunity for a paradigm shift in museums in Canada, and the world.”
– Bruce Kuwabara, Principal and Founder, KPMB Architects
“Agnes Reimagined, for me, is an unprecedented opportunity to rethink museum practices by literally building alternative architectures that restructure them, ensuring that our new building won’t be container for old systems but a proposition for new ideas.”
– Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator, Agnes Etherington Art Centre
To transform museum culture, we must first change museum architecture! Agnes Reimagined is designed as an ecosystem of spaces and practices whose lively interconnections are set in motion through thoughtfully curated space adjacencies and newly conceived security perimeters that together restructure the foundations of our work. By entangling our various museum functions non-hierarchically (from hosting residencies and ceremonies to making exhibitions and stewarding the care of collections), Agnes reimagines what an art centre centres!
Museum staff respond to ways of working that are rooted in hospitality by being hosts themselves. Upstairs, artists live at Agnes in a fully-functioning, two-bedroom apartment. This changes the temporality of our work by facilitating radical shifts in our program: sustained artistic exploration and curatorial research of our collection; long-term relationship building between visiting artists and local communities. So too, Indigenous communities visiting from far away stay at Agnes with ancestors, participate in ceremony, create artwork, do research, etc., well beyond museum hours.
Downstairs, intergenerational and intercultural dialogues unfold across community-centered exhibitions and event-based programming that gather around Agnes’s first-ever café. The adjacent Biéler Studio enlivens this milieu through newly designed and accessible makerspaces for workshops, learning classes and other after-museum-hour activities. Outdoor and indoor porches surround Etherington House to facilitate the “unprogrammed” convergences of simply hanging out. Agnes’s new architectures re-socialize our museum practices.
Indigenous communities visit ancestors and cultural belongings in purpose-built spaces that support ceremony and sacred fire. An outdoor medicine garden on a second-floor terrace nourishes practices extending across the museum’s entire ecosystem. A purposefully reimagined Keeping Place, designed around ancestors’ needs, paradigmatically shifts care away from western ideas of preservation to create living spaces for this evolving work to take precedent. Feeding, touching, dancing, sounding, listening, and learning happen in ways determined by Indigenous protocols, not western museum practices. Our live-in residence supports durational practices of Indigenous Elders, artists, curators and community members, facilitates repatriation and reciprocally supports process-based work. Grounding collections care practices in Indigenous ways of knowing and being complements western conservation training of Queen’s esteemed Art Conservation Program and enables a new generation of art conservators to be trained in both western and Indigenous world views. Our building is a proposition that will change museology in Canada.
Doubling Agnes’s exhibition spaces means more of our outstanding 17,000-object collection is on view and available to curating innovative connections across the many temporalities and world views represented in our holdings. A cluster of new second-floor galleries allows Agnes to develop large-scale, site-specific, contemporary art commissions produced in collaboration with our artists-in-residence and to bring impressive travelling exhibitions to our region.
Renovation of our collection storage, newly equipped for in-situ research alongside actual art objects, extends notions of hospitality even to what has traditionally been the most exclusive museum spaces. A 25% increase to specialized art storage ensures we can continue actively acquiring artworks for Agnes’s future.
An expanded “back-of-house” enhances Agnes’s category A status as a museum; improved environmental conditions for artworks provide adequate ventilation for smudging; newly equipped workshops facilitate purpose-built exhibition design and support greater staff-artist collaboration in the realization of contemporary art commissions.
New learning spaces woven throughout the museum operate at the intersection of Agnes’s civic, social and pedagogical roles. Fostering professional development and nurturing the youngest members of our community through the transformative power of art, these spaces truly grow the future of Agnes’ rad new vision and ensure our ecosystem will thrive! The new “Institute for Curatorial Inquiry” is space for curatorial experimentation and play; it enhances our Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies degree granting program and situates Agnes as a leader in curatorial experimentation in Canada. The redesigned and expanded McTavish Art Study Centre enables the intimate study of art and experientially grounds all disciplines at Queen’s in why art matters. A dedicated kid’s maker space exemplifies Agnes’s commitment to messy, arts-based educational programming.
Affectionately referred to as our “living room,” Agnes’s new welcome centre dynamically connects the enlivened Etherington House to our new Arts & Events Hub. Our kid’s maker space, McTavish Art Study Centre, and Agnes’s galleries all radiate around this open and permeable space. A 40 x 150 foot “art wall” means art is everywhere! Seating is scattered to offer modular, flexible, and audience-driven arrangements for informal conversation, reading, and hanging out. With three public entrances and exits, our living room is a gathering place and a passageway: it provides access to our new outdoor east terrace, nestled within our rewilded landscape. Through our living room, we welcome you into our home.
A covered bus bay on Bader Lane to the south provides easy access into Agnes for school/tour buses, for wheel trans and taxis drop off and accessible parking spots for visitors.
KPMB’s Bruce Kuwabara calls it a lilypad. Agnes calls it a mushroom. Regardless of its naming, or framing, this organically grown, three-story pavilion clad in wood solar shading supports some of the newest program spaces at Agnes while proposing an entirely different kind of architectural paradigm for Queen’s campus. On the ground floor a flexible, 250-person capacity Arts & Events Hub is suited up for state-of-the art programming—including concerts, performances, screenings, art installations, dinners, conferences, and anything else you can dream of. It will be Kingston’s most coveted space for weddings and other bespoke events. At the click of a button, a moveable curvilinear wall turns the space from intimate to expansive. On the second floor, Agnes’s new pavilion hosts Indigenous Self Determination spaces, the Institute for Curatorial Inquiry and 5,000 sf of new exhibition space.
In 2021, we began modelling our program aspirations for Agnes Reimagined. It’s helped us understand the architectures required to support our new artistic vision, while evaluating the experimentation undertaken to support our integrated arts “ecosystem.” From “vibrating edges” to “reinhabiting” Etherington House, we continue prototyping our future practices, particularly during our closure.
From remodelling collection care practices to the creation of new staff positions, our behind-the-scenes activities are as important to the transformation of our work culture as the new architectures are to reimagining our future cultural work. Here we provide a window into these “hidden,” but ongoing commitments.
Agnes’s journey surprises even us. Our special project attracts incredible people. Propelled by Bader Philanthropies, Inc.’s generosity, Agnes Reimagined continues to derive inspiration in “celebrating compassion.” Our request for design architects-as-collaborators landed the award-winning practice of KPMB, who give shape to our vision in ways that amaze us. Here we celebrate our ongoing milestones.