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Spotlight: AGO Seniors Arts Engagement Program

July 13th, 2015

Existing programs for seniors have demonstrated that engaging them in meaningful conversations about art, even in cases where cognitive changes are significant, creates a strong sense of well-being for both clients and caregivers. Adding the opportunity for personal creative expression can only enhance the experience, as professionals working in this field of study have learned that practicing creativity:

  • has been proven to support emotional well-being;
  • reinforces the brain cells responsible for memory;
  • cultivates a positive approach to life that enhances the immune system; and
  • promotes social interactions that helps combat depression.

The Seniors Arts Engagement Program is a three-year pilot at the AGO supported by the Elia Family in which we’re experimenting with art-making, in addition to tours, and we’re working to develop a multigenerational engagement approach. On their visit to the AGO, participants take a tour of the collection, looking at some examples of sculpture, and guides encourage conversation about the artworks. Later, in Galleria Italia, the groups enjoys a light lunch and then a facilitated art-making activity.

In the first year we partnered with the City of Toronto’s Long-Term Care Homes & Services Division, which allowed us to connect with a range of seniors. We’re currently in the second year and phase of this pilot program, and we have Baycrest as an additional partner who will help gather clinical evidence to support creative programming for older adults.

For further information please contact Melissa Smith, Gallery Guide and Adult Education Coordinator, at or 416-979-6660 ext. 268.

Four tips to get your group talking about art

March 26th, 2015

“I just don’t know how to talk to my groups about art!”

We often hear this refrain from organizations who are considering bringing their clients to the AGO for self-guided tours. They tell us that they and their clients worry that you need a deep understanding of art history to appreciate art the “right way.”

The truth is there is no “right way” to experience art. Art is for everyone, and there are many experiences with art as there are people who enjoy it. Some of us like a lot of facts to better understand the work and its context. Others prefer a story or an interpretation. Others like to experience the emotions that encounters with art can provoke.

We recently held an open house for the AGO’s Community Access Initiative members and took them on a tour to help them guide their clients – many of who have never visited an art gallery before – through the AGO.

The AGO offers two ongoing community access programs to organizations serving marginalized communities: our Neighbourhood Access Program (NAP), which allows community organizations to book free self-guided visits to the AGO; and our Community Membership Program (CMP), which provides community organizations with four AGO membership cards (each card admits two adults and as many as five youths under age 18) to lend to their clients. Through these two programs, we serve more than 300 community organizations across the GTA.

These organizations allow us to introduce art to people who may never have set foot in a gallery. We work hard to embody our “art matters” motto — an assertion that art makes a difference in people’s lives — and part of that is making everyone to feel welcome and excited to experience it for themselves.

Here are some of the tips and tricks we shared with our Community Access Initiative members:


Invite people to take a close look and provide a timeframe for them to look. Doing this allows people to take a “visual inventory” of the work and focus. On average, people spend only nine seconds looking at an artwork – taking your time allows you to notice more details and think about digest what you’re seeing.


Describe the work as a group to establish an understanding of what is being seen. It may be useful to start by listing what everyone sees. Some things you can touch on include:

  • Line and shape: for example ask, “What lines and shapes do you see in this drawing?”
  • Colour: “Does any one colour dominate this painting?”
  • Composition: “Where is the figure in relation to the landscape?”
  • Material: “What do you think this sculpture is made of?”
  • Technique: “By looking closely at this painting, can you describe the brushstroke?”
  • Subject matter:”What objects do you see in this painting?”


This is about giving meaning to the artwork. Responses can vary widely, so encourage different views and use ideas generated to expand on the conversation. Let people come to their own conclusions. Some things you can touch on include:

  • Time and place: “What season is suggested by this painting?”
  • Narrative:”What is happening with these two people?
  • Mood or psychological effect: “What is the overall mood of this photo?”
  • Artist’s intention: “Why do you think the artist decided to use these objects to create this sculpture?”
  • Artist’s biographical information: “What possible influence do you see of this artist’s homeland in this drawing?”
  • Historical and social context: “This painting was done in 1960. Are there things in the work that you associate with that time?”


Encourage members of the group to connect the works to their own life experiences. This will help them gain new insights and will make the works more relevant. Ask if they like the works, and feel free to share your own opinions. Here are some ways to make connections:

  • Personal life experience: “Does this look like the Toronto of today or the Toronto of when you were a child?”
  • Psychological and emotional effect: “How does this painting make you feel?”
  • Personal opinion: “Do you like this sculpture?”
  • Cultural changes and world events: “Does this war scene remind you of any specific conflict in the news?”
  • Other artwork: “How does this drawing of a landscape compare to the painting next to it?”

If you know of a deserving community organization that might benefit from one of our programs, please share this post! Have questions about Community Access at the AGO? Ask us in the comments below.

Take Our #KidstoWork Day: An exhibition of AGO careers

November 10th, 2014

By Brittany Reynolds, assistant, Recruitment, Training and Volunteer Programs

On Nov. 5, 2014, eight of our employees’ Grade 9 relatives joined us for the day and had the chance to see the variety of career opportunities here at the AGO.

The day kicked off with a tour of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2014 Exhibition by project assistant Danielle St-Amour, where the students learned more about different styles of photography and the importance of the Prize at the AGO.

Then they met with marketing manager Angela Olano to discuss more about promoting AGO exhibitions, and they were tasked with creating a plan to advertise the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize to their high school peers.

To end the morning, executive sous chef Renee Bellefeuille taught the students how to prepare profiteroles to make their very own chocolate éclairs. Students also had the chance to create their own menu that would include a starter and main course before their chocolate éclair dessert.

The afternoon’s activities included a vault tour by registrar Cindy Brouse and a tour of the conservation lab by sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis.

Last but certainly not least, the manager of our artist-in-residence and adult programs, Paola Poletto, spoke to students about the upcoming Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition and the group brainstormed what types of youth programs would be appealing to students in their high schools.

Thank you to all who participated in the AGO’s Take Our Kids to Work Program! This year marked the 20th anniversary of the program, which was started by The Learning Partnership in 1994 and gives Grade 9 students a headstart on their future by helping them explore career options and connecting them directly with the world of work.

Search the hashtag #KidsToWork on Twitter and Instagram to see what happened at other workplaces this year.

AGO’s brand-new courses include digital game design, artists’ books and more

January 10th, 2014


Each season, our education department offers courses for adults, youths and children that cover the fundamentals of art and art-making: painting, drawing, sculpture, photography as well as lectures that illuminate the history of art and where it is today. Beyond that, though, we aim to develop boundary-pushing educational experiences that expands students’ creative skills and knowledge. This session, a number of classes are available for the first time at the AGO, and we’re excited to tell you about them here (click on links for dates and more information).

In addition to the usual favourites, new programs for 2014 include:

Discovering Digital Games
This four-week workshop will introduce you to new creative practices in video games. Come in with questions and we’ll introduce you to some existing art games and show you how to create a simple video game for yourself. No previous gaming experience is necessary, although it is recommended to have an open and curious attitude about what games can be. Participants will need to bring their own Mac computers.

Portraits of Poets
This class will explore the portrait genre by working from live observation of a different poet each week. Each class will begin with a poet reciting and circulating a poem, followed by instruction in various painting and drawing techniques. Participating poets include bill bissett, Myna Wallin, George Elliott Clarke, Adam Sol, Dionne Brand, Rudyard Fearon, Ayesha Chatterjee, Sachiko Murakami and Olive Senior. A selection of student work from this class will be included in an exhibition in the AGO’s Community Gallery during National Poetry Month, April 2014. The course is presented in collaboration with the Poet Laureate of Toronto, George Elliott Clarke, and the League of Canadian Poets.

One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.

One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.

Introduction to Tea with Diane Borsato
This hands-on workshop with fall 2013 AGO artist-in-residence Diane Borsato will introduce participants to the history of tea’s cultivation, and various cultural practices that have developed around its consumption. Students will learn about the production and defining characteristics of the five categories of tea — white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh — as well as proper brewing and service techniques for the different styles.

Artists’ Books, Zines, Sketchbooks
How can a book be an artwork? How is a book physically made? This workshop introduces students to the traditions of artists’ books and zines and basic book-making techniques like simple binding, assembly and photocopy printing. Students will produce/bind their own sketchbooks or notebooks, their own photocopied zines and unique accordion-fold publications. The workshop will also include a visit to view the artists’ books and multiples in the AGO’s E.P. Taylor Research Library and Archives.

Vasily Kandinsky, Sketch for ‘Composition II’ (Skizze für "Komposition II"), 1909–10. Oil on canvas, 38 3/8 × 51 5/8 inches (97.5 × 131.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, 45.961 © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Vasily Kandinsky, Sketch for ‘Composition II’ (Skizze für “Komposition II”), 1909–10. Oil on canvas, 38 3/8 × 51 5/8 inches (97.5 × 131.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, 45.961 © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Art & Ideas: Modern Art, Modern Dance
Join field specialists in informal talks that explore the relationship between visual art and the choreography and dance of Europe in the years leading up to, and during, the First World War. Spotlighting artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, among others, the talks will also trace the achievements of these tumultuous years as artists experimented with new ways to create art while launching such movements as Expressionism, Futurism and Cubism.

Art & Ideas: Modern Art
Join field specialists in informal talks that explore the dynamism, creativity and innovation of art produced in Europe in the years leading up to, and during, the First World War. Spotlighting artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, among others, the talks will also trace the achievements of these tumultuous years as artists experimented with new ways to create art while launching such movements as Expressionism, Futurism and Cubism.

Learn more about these courses and more for kids, youths and adults, plus how to sign up, at Registration for spring 2014 courses opens Feb. 14, 2014.

September Twitter chat: Art schools and education, with co-hosts Akimbo and OCAD U

September 13th, 2012

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, from 1 to 2 p.m. EST we are teaming up with Akimbo and OCAD University and co-hosting an hour-long online discussion about art schools and art education. We hope you’ll join us!

Students young and old are getting settled into classrooms across the country this month, and that includes students studying art in full-time and part-time programs, as well as continuing education courses and workshops. They have a spectrum of goals and needs, whether they are aiming to brush up on technique, delve deep into art history and theory or gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be a practicing artist in Canada. What skills do they need to succeed? Where can they learn those skills? And how can their art education help them achieve their short- and long-term goals?

With their broad-ranging experience with and knowledge of art schools and education, we’re glad to have Akimbo’s Social Media Director James Fowler and OCAD U’s Media & Communications Officer Sarah Mulholland as our co-hosts on Sept. 26. Our Twitter chat will explore the following questions:

Q1 What are some of the top Canadian art schools?

Q2 What opportunities does a degree education give artists that casual classes or self-learning would not?

Q3 How important is it for artists to learn about art history and theory as part of their schooling?

Q4 What new programs/courses/workshops are emerging in Canada and what ones would you like to see?

Q5 What other “non–art practice” skills should young artists learn?

Q6 What do you look for in an art instructor, program, studio or theory class or workshop?

Q7 What mechanisms or services are there to help a new graduate succeed?

Q8 For people who don’t consider themselves artists, what are the benefits to taking part-time or occasional art classes?

Get ready to tweet up a storm! The top contributor to this chat will get tickets to an upcoming educational talk at the AGO, as well as stylin’ swag from Akimbo and OCAD U.


What #AkimboChat is a Twitter discussion, hosted by Akimbo, with a new art topic each month. Breaking from our usual #ArtHour schedule, we are joining forces with Akimbo and OCAD U for a mega-chat about art schools and education.

When Wednesday, September 26, 1 to 2 p.m. EST.

Where On Twitter. Follow @agotoronto, @akimboart and @ocad for more information, or search for the hashtag #AkimboChat. You can follow along using Tweetchat by using the #AkimboChat hashtag.

Who This #AkimboChat is for everyone: art students, schools, educators, working artists, arts professionals, galleries and museums, and anyone interested in learning more and meeting other passionate art fans.

How Starting at 1 p.m. @agotoronto, @akimboart and @ocad will be tweeting questions using the hashtag #AkimboChat. Anyone can respond, also using #AkimboChat. For example, we would tweet “Q1 What is your favourite painting? #AkimboChat,” and you could tweet back “A1 The West Wind by Tom Thomson! #AkimboChat.”

We hope that you’ll help spread the word and join us for this special collaborative Twitter chat. For more information, please email #ArtHour returns to its regular schedule, the second Thursday of the month, on Oct. 11, 2012.

Make art, save money!

October 3rd, 2011

You can now claim money back whenever you book your child into an art class at the AGO! There’s still time to register for our fall classes too.

The Government of Canada recently introduced the Canadian Children’s Arts Tax Credit, giving parents the opportunity to claim the 15 per cent non-refundable Canadian Children’s Arts Tax Credit on qualifying expenses up to $500 starting in 2011 for each child who is under the age of 16 at the beginning of the tax year. The age limit is 18 for children eligible for the Disability Tax Credit and an additional amount of $500 will be provided in those instances. The credit will go towards fees paid that contribute to the development of a child’s creative skills or expertise in artistic or cultural programs.

Fall art classes at the AGO: Book now to avoid disappointment

Here at the AGO,  the Children and Family Programs and Youth Studio offer an exceptional learning environment where children and youth are given the opportunity to do just that. Along with access to AGO’s galleries, collections, and new Weston Family Learning Centre, children and youth are presented with a variety of ways to learn and create.

* One-day family workshops, courses that are complimentary with admission, and programs that are part of school curriculum are not eligible for this tax credit.

To Qualify Classes Must Be:

  • Ongoing (either a minimum of once a week for at least eight weeks’ duration) or five consecutive days;
  • Supervised;  and
  • Suitable for children.

What Parents Need To Know

  • fees paid for the cost of memberships, registration, administration, instruction, and the rental of equipment is also included as an eligible expense.
  • Parents will receive an electronic receipt in January that will list: organization’s name and address, eligible program, fees paid and date received, full name of payer, full name of child and the child’s year of birth.

Please see the Canadian Revenue Agency website for more information.

For full details about learning opportunities at the AGO and in our new Weston Family Learning Centre please visit