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How a Canadian art gallery is countering tokenism of African art



Major art institutions across North America are often called out for shallow displays when it comes marginalized artists. The Art Gallery of Ontario launched their newest department on October 29, as part of an ongoing process to address a lack of Black art collected and exhibited in the gallery.

The department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora is a new arm of the institution dedicated to collecting all kinds of work—from photography to sculpture—from the African continent and beyond. They will work in tandem with other departments throughout the gallery.

Julie Crooks, the former associate curator of photography, is at the helm of the new department.

“The notion of Global Africa is that Africa lives in all of the individual departments at the AGO,” Crooks says in a phone interview.

Community outreach and meaningful programming are integral to the new department. The AGO created an acquisitions advisory committee called the Friends of Global Africa to ensure the wider community is reflected and has a voice within the institution.

Under the leadership of curator of photography Sophie Hackett and Crooks the department acquired works from photographers Paul Kodjo from the Ivory Coast, Malik Sidibé from Mali, and Dawoud Bey from the United States.

While associate curator of photography, Crooks was directly involved in acquiring the Montgomery Collection in 2019. It’s a collection of over 3,500 historical images from the Caribbean islands, including Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados.

Courtesy Montgomery Collection

“This was already happening [before the new department was launched] and I think interest in broader African diasporic history and stories certainly started with my tenure at AGO or even before I was hired. The first show I did was Free Black North in 2017. Then, of course, after I was hired I did Mickalene Thomas. So, there have been incremental examples of interest in more transnational stories and African diaspora artists, but I think it does become more formalized with an actual department. And, you know, the work continues.”

We spoke with Crooks to get the low-down on the department’s goals and how it hopes to impact the institution.

When did the AGO decide they wanted to devote a department to this work? 

Julie Crooks: “I have been actively talking about this possibility more or less since I started. There is the Frum Collection of African Art, which has no dedicated curator, that will now  be under the purview of this department. I was always interested in what kinds of discussions we could start around occupying that absence. I was speaking to my curator colleagues internationally about what this could look like. What is Global Africa in terms of a department? How does that manifest itself within the larger institution? And, of course, the events of the summer, George Floyd’s murder, the movement around Black Lives Matter obviously amplified even more the need for my position and this department.”

I’m also wondering if having a department that is devoted to African and African diasporic art will maybe mitigate or stop tokenistic representation? 

“Absolutely. One of the goals is to broaden and be inclusive of what we call modern, contemporary African art and to start rigorous research and collecting in that area. It isn’t tokenistic, rather than seeing one art object related to this area, you begin to see a cluster that is meaningful and thoughtfully acquired. It’s also reflecting the multiplicity of perspectives from the continent of Africa and the African diasporic experience. There are multiple stories and narratives to be told through the various works that we collect and they can’t be told through a singular painting or photograph or sculpture. The history is too rich and too complex. That’s why you need a department that can be steadfast and focused on building these stories.”

Is there a hope that having a department that focuses on Black African diasporic art will bring more of Toronto’s Black community in to see exhibitions? 

“I do hope so. I think that we’ve seen it already with the Mickalene Thomas show in 2018. Pre-COVID, before everything was locked down for Black History Month I organized a tour called “Discovering Blackness in and out of the vault”. I pulled paintings and some photographs that reflected a range of Black experiences and histories. There was a lot of interest and most of the comments I got were, ‘Why isn’t more of this work on the walls? Why isn’t there more access to this work?’ So, it’s important to reflect our community through the work that we acquire, which is a very large, interested, sophisticated community. They want to see works that are telling a myriad stories about Black experiences.”

Tell me a little bit more about the Friends of Global Africa, because I know that there is a concerted effort for the community to be involved in this department.

“It’s a support group of about 15 people that is drawn from members of the community. Each department at the AGO has an acquisitions committee that comes together under the leadership of a specific curator. This group is trying to change the way we think about those committees by including graduate students as well as folks who have an interest in art. Maybe they’re collecting, maybe they’re not, but there’s a range of different kinds of knowledge. It’s quite democratic in that way.”

I like the inclusion of graduate students.

“Yeah, that’s not usually done because these committees are seen as exclusive. We are trying to dismantle, with this department, all the structures that don’t allow for access to the institution. How do we rectify that? By including graduate students who are interested in the field, who are perhaps interested in curating. They are scholars who I think can offer a lot to the conversation, but it also creates a kind of pipeline in terms of training the next generation. They have access to the people around the table, they have access to the curators, they have access to the work.”




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Hariri Pontarini To Design Art Gallery of York University – Urban Toronto



Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA) have been selected to design a new, stand-alone art gallery at York University. The new building will become a centrepiece at the Keele Campus, building upon the rich history of the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), and magnifying its reach into the local community and the world beyond.

Rendering of the winning design. Image courtesy of Hariri Pontarini Architects.

Boasting a contemporary, contextual design with the firm’s signature curves, HPA’s proposal stood out in the online design competition which saw a wide show of interest from strong contenders in the architectural community. Moriyama and Teshima Architects and gh3 were also on the shortlist. All three firms have received Governor General’s Medals in Architecture.

The new building will be located at the heart of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, adjacent to the Harry W. Arthurs Common, steps from the subway station. The three-storey building will highlight contemporary and historic art and include a ground level event space with four separate gallery spaces set within a xeriscape garden.

AGYU’s collection currently contains 1,700 works including…

  • prominent donations of works by Norval Morrisseau and Andy Warhol
  • 200 prints and sculptures by renowned and influential Inuit artists including Kenojuak Ashevek and Kananginak Pootoogook
  • paradigmatic work by Canadian “Automatistes” Jean-Paul Riopelle and Paul-Emile Borduas
  • American Modernists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland
  • RISE, an internationally acclaimed film by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, featuring performances from some of Toronto’s most influential spoken word and rap artists.

Aerial: The new building will sit at the heart of York Keele Campus’ School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, adjacent to the Harry W. Arthurs Common, between the Accolade East Building and the Centre for Film & Theatre. Image courtesy of Googlemaps.

Founding Partner Siamak Hariri cites his excitement to help reimagine the AGYU’s future, “To signify this transformation, we were inspired by metaphor and nature. Like a butterfly, each of the five wings of the new gallery extend their reach out to the campus and of course beyond. Responding to the AGYU’s aspiration to expand the social and civic role of the gallery, the building will have a powerful presence, a new presence, embracing the full University Common, and welcoming and attracting visitors to all the wonder it has to offer.”

The AGYU opened in 1988 and moved into its current 3,000 ft² in 2006. The new building, combined with the AGYU’s existing space, will form a unified art institution and an important hub for artistic engagement. “The new design reflects our vision of an accessible and collaborative art gallery that serves as a space for creation, exhibition and appreciation of diverse art and culture,” says President & Vice- Chancellor Rhonda Lenton.

Philanthropists and art collectors Joan and Martin Goldfarb donated $5 million towards the gallery, kicking off this expansion and flagging the importance of the arts on campus. The eponymous Joan and Martin Goldfarb Gallery will honour the Goldfarb’s long history of supporting the arts at York University.

Rendering of the winning design, aerial view from across the Harry W. Arthurs Common. Image courtesy of Hariri Pontarini Architects.

With this win, HPA adds to its notable cultural and institutional portfolio, which includes the recently opened Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, and the internationally award-winning Bahá’í Temple of South America.

You can learn more from our Database file for the project, linked below. If you’d like to, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.

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Province puts up $100K to get more art into public places on P.E.I. –



The province has set aside $100,000 over the next two years to develop a public art policy for the province.

Michelle MacCallum, director of cultural development with Innovation PEI, says it will enable the province to commission and acquire public art for government sites such as hospitals, schools and parks.

“I love seeing artwork all over our province,” she said.  

“I think about how much it delights and engages and sometimes challenges people when they come upon public art.”

Different than art bank

MacCallum said it will also be another opportunity for Island artists to display their work and earn money from it.

She said it will be different from the provincial art bank.

“This is more specific to sites. So if we were building a new school or some kind of provincial government office building, if you think about it, the building in and of itself is a public entity. But there’s nothing, there’s no art around it. It doesn’t say anything about it, about the people that use it, about what it’s for,” MacCallum said.

“So public art is there to augment the site specifically rather than just acquiring a catalog of the best of art, which is what the art bank does.”

Selected by jury

MacCallum said they will consult with architects and developers of potential sites, then put out request for proposals. The art will be selected by a jury.

She said there are a few sites being considered, but it’s too soon to disclose the locations.

More from CBC P.E.I.

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Art world star gives back by buying work of the undiscovered – Yahoo Canada Finance



Business Wire

Spero Health Opens New Hopkinsville, KY Clinic Offering Addiction Treatment With Telehealth Services

Spero Health has announced plans to open their newest addiction treatment clinic in Hopkinsville, KY as part of the organization’s quick response to the growing need for expanded services as communities continue to see an increase in drug overdose deaths. CARF -accredited and community based, Spero Health is a national leader in providing care for individuals struggling with substance use disorders and will bring affordable, high quality addiction treatment services through a combination of telehealth and in-person visit options at this new clinic. Located at 111Susan Avenue, it is set to open its doors on December 1st. The new Hopkinsville Clinic joins a network of more than 45 Spero Health locations throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Indiana, providing care for more than 8,400 patients each month. To ensure access to care is not a barrier to treatment, Spero Health accepts Kentucky Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans. Individuals who need addiction treatment services are encouraged to call: 270-962-2255 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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