Agnes Etherington Art Centre to undergo $75M transformation into dream art house

Queen's Journal
31 May 2024

New Art Centre set to become the face of evolving museum culture of the 21st century.

Agnes Etherington Art Centre is being transformed into the dream art house it was originally intended to be.

The $75 million donation from Bader Philanthropy Inc. will support the redevelopment of Agnes—which closed on March 29—to begin renovations over the next two years. The museum will increase in size by 200 per cent and renovations will make Agnes Etherington Art Centre the largest university museum in Canada.

The reimagining of Agnes will be built upon the concept of hospitality and inclusivity, intending to capture the atmosphere of a ‘home,’ as it was when Kingston philanthropist, Agnes Etherington herself, resided in the building.

Etherington lived in Kingston on University Avenue, helping to establish the university fine arts program in the 1930s. Her home was a gathering place for artists and students. After her death in 1954, the home was gifted to Queen’s University and is now known today as Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

“Agnes was compelled to think very seriously about what it means to further the cause of art and community and to think very seriously about the art museum’s role in furthering social justice because a museum of the past is no longer a relevant teacher,” Director and Curator of Agnes, Emelie Chhangur, said in an interview with The Journal.

The ground floor will become a 250-person capacity “welcome centre” which will be referred to as the “living room.” The room will use household vernacular, featuring outdoor and indoor porches and couches Queen’s students and Kingston community members can enjoy.

The dream art house’s focus on hospitality and inclusivity will invite the Kingston community to think of the gallery as theirs, removing boundaries separating Agnes and the Queen’s community from them.

The new building will include the construction of Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s first café and bedrooms for the live-in artist residencies to commemorate how the house was originally used in Etherington’s time.

The renovation planned for the museum was developed through talking and sharing circles, aiming to decolonize the process of building the new museum, rather than just the final project alone. Everyone was included in the planning process, including the architects, to invite the community into the project.

The KPMB architects, led by Bruce Kuwabara and Indigenous affairs consultant, Georgina Riel, are working to make Agnes Reimagined come to life. The firm was chosen to illustrate Agnes’ practice of rejecting traditional museum limitations and transforming museum culture by emphasizing diversity and situating Western and Indigenous worldviews side by side as equals.

The second floor of Agnes Reimagined will include Indigenous Self-Determination Spaces, an outdoor medicinal garden, and a purposefully reimagined Keeping Place. The new shift will see an invitation to Indigenous traditions and cultural practices while simultaneously striving towards meaningful allyship.

This approach to planning symbolizes Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s commitment to the future of museums and restructuring traditional foundations to create a truly welcoming environment.

“The idea of hospitality means that everybody has a space, and everyone feels like they belong at Agnes,” Chhangur said.

“Agnes Etherington Art Centre intends to hold multiplicity, eradicate hierarchies, and practice equality at every opportunity they can,” Chhangur said in an interview with The Journal. “We want to take the pressing issues that museums face and properly deal with them.”

Agnes Reimagined will become a modern dream museum house that brings a fresh approach to the museum sector with its focus on human togetherness.

Queen’s Journal article


Image Credits

Subscribe to our “This Week at Agnes” e-newsletter to stay abreast of events, news and opportunities at the art museum.