Local talents collaborate to ‘transform’ the Agnes 

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre is ‘transforming’ into a more inclusive space by mobilizing arts, creativity, and museological practice in Canada, giving birth to a vision for a redesign called Agnes Reimagined.

One of the most notable — and noticeable — projects recently completed in advance of this full reimagining is Transformations, a commissioned graffiti illustration around the walls of the Agnes. Oriah Scott, an artist from Kingston who is currently based in Toronto, curated the project in collaboration with other local artists from Kingston like EronOne and AJ Little (who spent his teen years in Kingston), as well as a number of other artists from across the Toronto-to-Montreal region. 

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s ‘Transformations’ has seen the exterior of the building covered in the works of local and Ontario-based graffiti artists. Photo by Tim Forbes.

Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, met Scott before coming to the Agnes and had seen him painting an alley. Later, she shared the concept of the project, Transformations, aimed at making the Agnes more inviting and accessible to everyone. Scott was immediately interested.

Scott is a multimedia artist and curator who was born at Kingston General Hospital (KGH), which stands on the other side of Queen’s University’s Nixon Field, across from the Agnes. 

“Seeing the brick façade [at the Agnes] reminded me of my roots and got me thinking of a way to involve more artists, ideas, and voices — often overlooked voices in a world that can be exclusionary,” said Scott.  

Scott also shared his feelings about the barriers people face in Kingston in expressing themselves and how that counterculture is often overlooked, discarded, and abandoned. 

“I hope that this piece, amongst the other groundbreaking projects in the reimagining of Agnes, can open avenues that myself, those who never left, and those who are new can find inspiration and hope from,” he added. 

The Transformations project is a part of a residency at the Agnes called the Stonecroft Artist(s)-in-Residence, where the artists will be hosted until the end of fall. It is funded by the Stonecroft Foundation and the City of Kingston Arts Fund (administered by the Kingston Arts Council).

Aaron Forsyth, also known as EronOne (local residents may be familiar with his waterfront mural work), is another of the resident artists involved in Transformations; he described working with the Agnes and the artists involved as a great opportunity. 

“This work is significant for me as an artist because the gallery recognizes my artwork and that of other artists. It is always a great opportunity to work with the Agnes gallery,” said Forsyth. “These are artists I have painted with in the past, and it is nice because everybody gets along, making the collaboration easy.”

“Oriah reached out to me for the project,” said artist AJ Little. “We are childhood friends, and we both were in Kingston doing graffiti during our teens. This project is a bit of a respectable homecoming to be part of this.”

“Graffiti as a concept holds a feeling, getting its power from iteration, motifs, and patterns that express thoughts. And working on this project with other skilled artists makes you better,” he added. 

Transformations is also described as celebrating Kingston’s long history of street art. It highlights the alternative art histories embedded in city streets, providing a framework for experiential learning and co-curriculum development conceived in collaboration with faculty and students from Queen’s University’s Art Conservation Program.

Transformations will remain at the Agnes until the construction for Agnes Reimagined begins in the summer of 2023. 

Chhangur on Agnes Reimagined

A gift from Bader Philanthropies, Inc. will enable the Agnes to expand in programming and physically provide more space for a live-in artist residency, community-facing hub, physical exhibition and teaching spaces, and dynamic projects by artists in the community. Chhangur spoke of the principles of decolonization and Indigenization guiding the whole concept: The new space envisioned for the Agnes aims to make museums more inclusive — not just a space to present the arts through history, but a dynamic culture-making hub and an active civic and social force for everyone. 

The Agnes received a significant $54 million gift from Bader Philanthropies, Inc. in 2020, which will be used for facility expansion and to make art accessible to everyone through new and improved programming. That same year, Chhangur was hired as the new Director and Curator of the centre. 

“When I came here,” Chhangur said, “I saw this as an opportunity to rethink or reimagine the museum from the ground up: rethink not just the practices and protocols of art galleries, but actually to fundamentally reimagine the architecture, the build, the structures, the thinking atmosphere that institutions inhabit, and the civic and social world.”

She also pointed to an upcoming event at Agnes, the Brown Butter House Party, happening on Saturday, Jul. 10, 2022, which is a public event and will act as an introduction for the public to come and see the vision for Agnes as it comes to fruition. 

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