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Public Engagement

March 16, 200816 March 2008

Special Issue: Visual Arts Summit

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Statistics were presented showing that 26.7% of Canadians 15 or older visited an art gallery in 2005, or 7 million people. Between 1992 and 2005, the percentage of Canadians visiting an art gallery increased substantially, from 19.6% to 26.7%. In other words, 4.2 million Canadians visited a gallery in 1992, compared with 7.0 million in 2005.

However, the cost of admission to art galleries was seen by some participants as a barrier to audiences. For one participant, “the cost of admissions is a huge barrier, especially for youth”. Participants felt an ongoing need to, as noted by one participant, “seduce the media and the public, so they will have an increased awareness of the visual arts.”

For some, access means commitment and connection to the community. “A large segment of the public does not visit art galleries. We must re-frame ways in which the gallery places itself within the community.” Another participant pointed to teen councils as a good example of access and engagement.

Community curatorial projects can give a voice to the public. In some cases, opportunities for funding multiply when galleries work collaboratively with other community groups.

Toronto’s recent Nuit Blanche, “an all-night contemporary art thing”, was discussed by a number of participants. “It was free and met people in the streets. It came to the public rather than making the public come to it (in a gallery).” It was reported that nearly 70,000 people attended Nuit Blanche events.

Nuit Blanche proved that the public is interested in contemporary art. However, there is still a need to transcend the general perception that contemporary art is intimidating.

One participant argued that galleries and artist-run centres should collaborate more in order to achieve common goals. Other participant comments include:

  • “Our challenge is to invent new formats for the presentation of art.”
  • “Art Metropole is curating projects online in Second Life. This is a completely new audience for visual art. This demonstrates thinking outside the box in terms of presentation spaces for art.”
  • “Artist-run centres are at the core of the sector.”

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