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A Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario: Phase 2 – In Their Own Words

November 27, 200627 November 2006

Museums, Galleries, Visual Arts and Heritage

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This report, prepared by Hill Strategies Research for the Ontario Association of Art Galleries, provides a qualitative complement to the quantitative analysis of A Statistical Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario. The report attempts to provide insights into the situation of public art galleries in Ontario. The report allows art galleries to identify similarities and differences in their operations with the 15 galleries that were interviewed for the project.

The report is based on group interviews with directors, curators and board representatives of 15 art galleries across Ontario. Representatives from a broad spectrum of public galleries were interviewed, including the (very small) Latcham Gallery in Stouffville, the (very large) Art Gallery of Ontario, northern galleries (Thunder Bay Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Sudbury), eastern Ontario galleries, galleries in Toronto and the surrounding area, as well as galleries from southwestern Ontario.

The art gallery representatives were questioned about their mandates, collections, relationship to their communities, successes, challenges, and plans for the future.

Overall, their responses clearly indicate that “galleries are engaged in a delicate balancing act between mission-driven and finance-driven initiatives”. For some galleries, “funding is always an issue; we’re living on the edge all the time”. Significant fundraising is needed to support core activities – collections, research, exhibitions and education. Gallery representatives indicated that a high priority for them is “increased, sustainable operating funding – with attention paid to their core activities”.

The section on art gallery collections summarizes the nature of the galleries’ permanent collections, why the collections are important, and how galleries are adding to their collections. The galleries have different focuses in their collections, although many collect and champion local or regional artists’ works. All collecting galleries expressed pride in their collections and pointed to their collections as strengths of their organizations. Regarding the importance and relevance of their collections, respondents indicated that “collections are held in trust for the community” and “provide a visual history of the area by documenting the artistic practice in the community and the region”. Collections also guide many galleries’ programming activities. The report notes that “the fact that galleries hold permanent collections communicates to the public that art has a substantial social and cultural value and that art is not just ephemeral”. In addition, the research function related to collections is also seen as very important.

Many galleries “indicated that they have a number of communities that they attempt to serve”, including the arts community, students, other local gallery-goers, tourists, and the general public. Galleries indicated that some of the strengths and challenges involved in connecting with their communities include engaging diverse audiences, providing substantial education activities, recruiting board members and other volunteers, connecting with local governments, marketing and media awareness, signage difficulties, local partnerships, increasing the profile of the gallery, as well as economic development and tourism.

Gallery representatives most frequently mentioned successes in six general areas: community relationships and local collaborations; exhibitions; finances; education and other programming; human resources; and gallery profile. The report indicates that “community-related successes were mentioned in each of the 15 interview sessions. Some of the [most frequently mentioned successes] – finances, human resources and profile – are also on the list of most mentioned challenges.”

Financial challenges were mentioned in each of the 15 interview sessions. Other areas presenting challenges for a large number of galleries include: facilities; collections and research; governance; human resources; and gallery profile.

Many galleries have developed plans for the future that attempt to build on their successes and address their challenges.

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