The Changing Population of My City

The Changing Population of My City Photo courtesy of Shelagh Barrington

By Shelagh Barrington, Gallery Guide and Volunteer President, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada (March, 2018)

As volunteers within our cultural organizations we need to understand the make-up of our communities.

Toronto is an increasingly multicultural and multilingual city. The 2016 Canadian census showed that 51.5% of Toronto's population identified as visible minorities, compared to 49.1% in 2011, 43.7% in 2001 and 13.6% in 1981.

Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language, other than the two official national languages, English or French, at home.

As the population of the City of Toronto diversifies, galleries like my own need to recognize what diversity means in terms of changing audiences and interests. To continue to attract and grow the number of residents attending our gallery and special exhibitions we need to respect and respond to how diversity shapes those interests.

How do we as docent/guides respond? Although our entire organizations, from the top down, must be open to bringing in new people with new ideas, both younger and from various cultures, we, as volunteer organizations, also have to recognize we need docent/guides who reflect the cultures that make up our cities. Diversifying our staff and volunteers will assist us in attracting an audience that currently may not see itself reflected in the approaches of the past.


In simple terms, reflect the needs and desires of your audience, including role models, if you want to remain relevant and attract and grow that audience.

At my art gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, our Staff and Volunteer Resources Department, responsible for all recruiting, has contacted other volunteer agencies who have youth volunteers and consulted with them on the best ways of attracting younger volunteers (flexible hours and a fun environment). We have advertised on web sites frequented by youth from universities and colleges, as they are diverse communities and we have made our volunteer application online and accessible to our tech-centered youth. We recognize change does not happen overnight. At the AGO there is a long term commitment to expand diversity amongst all our volunteer/guides.

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