View of Transformations, a site-specific commission by artists Oriah Scott, EronOne, HONE, HUNGR, AJ Little, Emily May Rose and guest graffiti artists from across the Montreal-Toronto corridor. Photo: Garrett Elliott
Our capacity to turn imagination into reality is certainly manifesting right now at Agnes. As we focus our attention on closing our current facility to pack the incredible collection of 17,000 objects in preparation for our move off-site and the construction of Agnes Reimagined to begin, we reflect on some of our key accomplishments over the past two years.
With a transformational lead gift from Bader Philanthropies Inc, we have been given the unprecedented opportunity to reimagine the social, civic and pedagogical role of the 21st-century museum, and then build a new architecture around it! Indeed, we are in the very rare position to redefine art institutional practice in tandem with a community-engaged architectural design process: our building is a proposition from which new museum practices can and will emerge.
After an international call for design architects, in early 2022 we announced the curated team assembled by the award-winning, Toronto-based firm KPMB—co-led by architect Bruce Kuwabara and Indigenous Affairs consultant, Georgina Riel—as our collaborators on this journey. We have been working closely with this team over the past year and look forward to sharing the architectural plans as they develop throughout 2023. We will also be sharing an exciting announcement in the new year, so please stay tuned! For now, what I can say for sure is that our beloved Agnes will emerge as the largest, public-university-affiliated museum in this country and a champion of museological change: a living museum for the 21st century, where Indigenous and Western world views sit side-by-side as equals.
Our transformative expansion project is a combination of renovation and new construction. This includes a fully accessible renovation of the historic Etherington House into a community facing, interdisciplinary cultural hub, artist’s project space and live-in artist residency. We honour Agnes Etherington’s bequest of her home to Queen’s to make Agnes an art centre that “furthers the cause of art and community,” as we ground our vision in the concept of the home and hospitality. Centring the social impact and civic role of art and enlivening participation in visual culture, new construction supports a 200% increase in exhibition and public programming spaces for engaged curatorial experimentation across our impressive collections and contemporary art commissions as well as our first-ever Indigenous self-determination spaces for proper ceremony, care and access by Indigenous communities of their ancestors and cultural belongings currently residing at Agnes. I look forward to meeting you in our new welcome centre, complete with a 250-person capacity event space, or hanging out on the porch at our new café and inviting you to make art in our newly renovated Biéler studio or to engage intimately with our collections in our new study centre. But maybe you will come instead to simply relax on our second-floor terrace!?
Building for the future of museum practice is not the only thing on the top of our accomplishment list this past year. I am mega proud to also announce our recent sweep of the Galleries Ontario Art Awards at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs theatre in downtown Toronto. As the only annual juried awards of its kind, these Awards celebrate the outstanding achievement, artistic merit, and excellence of arts institutions and professionals in the public art gallery sector, recognizing the wide range of our work in exhibitions, design, publications, programs, and community partnerships. Agnes took home five of these awards—two for our 2021–2022 exhibitions, one in curatorial writing, and two in design!
Indeed, we have worked really hard to build trust with communities and reimagine our social, civic and pedagogical role. Over the past two years, we have been learning how exhibitions—not just artworks—can be “curated” into reciprocal conversation. It is in-between these exhibitions—at their “vibrating edges” as I like to call them—where new connections have been ignited across Agnes’s collections, commissions, and communities.
Working in a non-hierarchical way has prompted us to take up our own history in new ways, too. And while 2022 saw Agnes caringly carry forward the past—as evidenced in these final exhibitions—we’ve also been making plans for our move off site, our further integration into the wider Kingston art communities, and the deepening of our relationships across all disciplines at Queen’s. We are making big plans for the next couple of years and while our facility might be closed, we certainly won’t be absent. Keep your eye on upcoming Agnes Stories as we take you through some of our recent successes and shed light on what lies ahead.
—Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator