Keeping It Together at the AGO in Toronto!

Shelagh Barrington, Gallery Guide, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); NDSC Regional Director, Canada (Spring 2021)

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has been closed to the public since March 2020. As a result, AGO Leadership and the Board of Directors have asked many staff members to redeploy their talents to produce virtual programs for the community. There are daily virtual junior school programs, virtual art classes for adults, online groups focused on young adults and sessions for Moms at home with toddlers. Gallery guides applaud the effort to keep our incredibly talented staff employed, both for compassionate reasons and for the health of the gallery now and in the forever-changed future. But where does that leave the AGO Gallery Guides? Unfortunately, in limbo!  But we are resourceful and social, so we are keeping it together!


As AGO staff responsible for the Gallery Guide program were redeployed to community outreach, training for Gallery Guides ceased. Public programs in the museum are not expected to resume until we are all successfully vaccinated. In Toronto that may mean not until 2022.

We miss and need our friendships and the intellectual challenges of preparing and giving tours. That is why we joined the AGO Gallery Guide community and why we won’t let it fade away. Thanks to online meeting platforms like Zoom, we are staying connected, meeting regularly and sharing and practicing our touring skills. Several strategies have emerged:

One group meets on their regular day and time, for what started as half an hour but has now stretched to a full hour each week. The meetings combine social time and friendly support with some form of art presentation, a presentation on a particular artist, or something outside the box like what was your personal art Ah Ah moment? What is your favourite art piece in your home and why? Sometimes a discussion follows. The last 10 minutes are given over to brief movie, video, documentary or book reviews that might interest the group.

Another smaller group has brought together both the Gallery Guides and the Information Guides who previously volunteered on the same shifts. During their meetings, they practice 10 minute art DOTS. They are looking forward to presenting a linked virtual presentation for the AGO volunteer community during Canada’s National Volunteer Week April 12 to 18, 2021.

Other groups stay linked through participating in the numerous free lectures and tours offered by fellow Docent/Gallery Guide groups around North America. Afterwards there are discussions around what they have just watched.

Recently, the staff at the AGO attended a series of 4 virtual talks on inclusion and diversity. This same program has now been offered to the entire Volunteer community beginning in March 2021. Each session will be followed by a discussion group for those attending.

We are finding ways to stay connected, learn new skills, and enjoy art while we await our return to the AGO!