Art Gallery of Ontario: Changes and Adjustment Take Time!

   At the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), like many other museums and cultural facilities, closures due to covid forced a rethinking of how our institutions connect to our surrounding communities. Video and Zoom links became a huge part of adapting “to bring art to the classroom” instead of the classrooms to the art. Lectures and curator presentation given to the AGO membership continued to keep us linked to the outside and entertained while we were confined to our homes. It also meant, a large number of our staff had their talents redeployed supporting these activities and allowing for and justifying continued employment. Volunteers supported this strategy while remaining on hold waiting for a time when the AGO staff could focus on us and we could reengage with the public.

While waiting for our time, Gallery Guides stayed active through self organized zoom meetings. During Volunteer Week, we organized a zoom tour of some of our favourite AGO works of art for all the volunteers. Staff made time to keep us informed of current AGO activities and timing of reopening strategies. Gallery Guides continued to stay active and took advantage of generous offers from other North America galleries who offered tours of their exhibitions. We made new connections.

When re-openings began both the institution, and our visitors were cautious.  Questionnaires, temperature taking and masks were the new entry regime.  Over time these precautions lessoned but attendance was slow to recover. At the AGO we found our younger audience “coming back” more quickly than our older more established visitor who had more at risk.

How was the new thinking from AGO Leadership around these new stats on younger audiences going to affect the Gallery Guide program? Education and Public Outreach, responsible for Gallery Guides had new thoughts and ideas they believed, would be successful in reinvigorating attendance and keeping those younger audiences entertained and coming back. As Gallery Guides, we know change is going to happen and needs to happen and we were willing to listen and try out a different way! That did not mean that all of the Gallery Guides were happy with the new ideas, but they were willing to wait and see.

As is the case when trying out any new options over time it became apparent that some of the new ideas needed to be tweaked. To their great credit and relief of the Gallery Guides, staff was willing to listen and make changes. Gallery Guides felt their input was valued and in turn staff gained our trust.

AGO Gallery Guides will continue to listen to and work together with staff to ensure our activities fit and adapt to changes instituted by AGO Leadership to meet the needs of all, of our guests.

Shelagh Barrington,

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