Ontario Association of Art Galleries

About OAAG: History of OAAG

In 1947 the Southern Ontario Gallery Group was formed by four galleries for the purposes of developing exhibitions to exchange among the participating centres.

By 1952 the original group had expended to a point that the Art Institute of Ontario was formed, the purpose of which was to continue the exchange of exhibitions and also to increase the number of communities with access to the visual arts.

By 1967 the demand for Art Institute programs had grown to such an extent that the Extension Services of the Art Gallery of Ontario undertook the responsibility of developing and circulating exhibitions.

In 1968 the Ontario Association of Art Galleries was formed with the following purposes:

1. To encourage close cooperation between the Ontario Association of Art Galleries and the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts [now the Ontario Arts Council] and other similar agencies.
2. To assist developing visual art centres in the Province.
3. To promote high standards of excellence and uniform methods in the care and presentation of works of art.
4. To serve as an advisory body in matters of professional interest.

The Ontario Association of Art Galleries was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1970 when the office of the secretariat was opened in Toronto.

Founding Members of OAAG
Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston
Art Gallery of Hamilton
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (formerly Art Gallery of Toronto)
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (formerly Hart House), University of Toronto
Kitchener/Waterloo Art Gallery
London Regional and Historical Museums (London Public Library and Art Museum)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery
Rodman Hall Art Centre (formerly St. Catharines and District Arts Council)
Art Gallery of Windsor (formerly Willistead Art Gallery)

OAAG Executive Directors
1970 - Jeremy Watney
1973 - Rory O'Donal
1984 - Dr. Edwina Taborsky
1985 - Peeter Sepp
1987 - Anne Kolisnyk
1998 - Donald Brackett
1999 - Cheryl Smith
2001 - Demetra Christakos
2015 - Zainub Verjee

OAAG Publications and Studies
1977 - Profile for the Ideal Public Art Gallery
1979 - Job Study (A General Comparison Study of Salaries and Benefits of Professional Groups to Public Gallery Workers)
1980 - Calculating the Economic Impact of Cultural Organizations
1981 - Gallery Guide (Directory of Public Galleries)
1981-82 - Art Gallery Handbook, Volume I
1982 - Tax Exemption Manual
1984 - Who’s Who Directory
1989 - Who’s Who Directory, Revised Edition
1989 - Viewing Art in Ontario
1990 - Art Gallery Handbook, Volume II
1990 - Legaleasy/Le droit à la portée de tous
1991 - Hand in Glove series
1991 - Artists & Entrepreneurs
1992 - Feasibility Study for an Ontario Arts Awareness Campaign
1994 - Mapping a Future: Report on Audience and Stakeholder Research, Report on Stakeholder Focus Groups, The Way People Look at Art Galleries, Tables by Demographics, Tables by Market Segments
1995 - Censorship and the Arts
2001 - Art Gallery Handbook, Volume III
2005 - OAAG Data Exchange, A Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario
2008 -
2010 - The Group of Seven Project 1920 -> 2005
2011 - Art Institutions and the Feminist Dialectic (
2011 -
2012 - Gallery Pal
2014 - Statistical Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario (Based on the 2013 OAAG Data Exchange)

Articles on the History of OAAG
Article by Kenneth Saltmarche, OAAG Bulletin, Spring 1969
Article by Jeremy N. Watney, Executive Director, c.1971
Looking Back: Nostalgia that Works
by Pamela Wachna, Experience 1978 Project

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Article by Kenneth Saltmarche, OAAG Bulletin, Spring 1969
In 1947, at the instigation of Nicholas Ignatieff, then Warden of Hart House, the art galleries of London, Hamilton, Windsor, and Hart House met to consider ways in which they might co-operate in organizing exhibitions for circulation to the four centres. The Southern Ontario Galleries Group thus formed was quite informal, it met twice a year to consider ideas for shows, to decide who would assume responsibility for putting the ideas into tangible form, and to settle accounts. As long as the group remained small it worked effectively as a means of assembling and presenting shows of value at a minimum cost. Its success attracted other centres and gradually the group grew to include nine participating members. The original purpose was defeated and it became apparent that an organization broader in concept and geared to a larger audience was needed. In 1952, largely through the efforts of the late Martin Baldwin, then director of the Art Gallery [of Toronto], the Art Institute of Ontario was formed. The founding members included the original four plus other institutions and organizations concerned with the visual arts. Its work was aimed at increasing the number of smaller centres throughout the Province.

By 1967 under its Director, Paul Bennett, the services of the Art Institute of Ontario extended to 100 Ontario communities, its financial base was inadequate to the demand, and its memberships approved its amalgamation with the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Art Gallery’s Extension Department assumed the responsibility of carrying on and strengthening the work begun 15 years earlier. The dissolution of the Art Institute of Ontario and the channeling of its work may augur well for the Province as a whole—one can only wait to see.

For the longer established art galleries, including those who formed the original group in 1947, the change meant that there was no longer a meeting-place or forum where problems of mutual interest could be discussed. In August 1968, an informal meeting of some of those most concerned and representing a number of the original members of the Art Institute of Ontario, met at the Art Gallery of Hamilton to consider the creation of a new meeting place. In a sense we had come full circle. The formation of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries resulted from that meeting.

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Article by Jeremy N. Watney, Executive Director, c.1971
The eleven charter members of the Association represented most of the major galleries in Ontario at that time. Since August 1968, 11 more galleries, which were able to meet the requirements of full membership have joined the Association. At this time, the Association represents all galleries in the province that can meet the requirements of full membership.

In June 1969, it was decided that an additional category of Associate Membership should be introduced not only to assist developing centres, but also to encourage professional standards and improve communications on a broader basis. There are 18 Associate Members at this time.

In June 1969, members of the OAAG recognized that some of the smaller exhibition centres, which could not meet the requirements of full membership, would benefit from being affiliated with the Association and a new category of Associate Membership was created with the following qualifications:

“Associate Membership in OAAG is open to the non-profit community and university art galleries, art associations and groups within the Province of Ontario which function for the purpose of developing the visual arts in their communities and which are not covered by the qualifications for full membership. Associate Members will meet with members of the OAAG at least once a year.”

In effect what had happened was that the OAAG had assumed those parts of the role of the Art Institute, outside of circulation of exhibitions, and had expanded its purposes in the area of professional development.

By the Fall of the same year, the workload on the Executive had increased to such an extent that their volunteer services were no longer adequate, and the Executive approached the Ontario Arts Council for a grant to operate a secretariat. The council provided the necessary funds in that and in each subsequent year.

The secretariat has been able to initiate a number of services such as a monthly bulletin, preparation of reports, minutes, agendas, etc., and has also made it possible to have a representative of the OAAG available to travel throughout the province to assist and represent members and associate members whenever necessary.

In the first three years of operation, the secretariat has not only served the role of a central office and representative for all the galleries in Ontario, but has been instrumental in a number of specific projects which have ranged from subjects of professional importance to gallery directors to regional programs. The unique position of the central office has allowed subjects to be raised such as the role of the trustee and conservation requirements for Ontario which could never have been initiated by a singe gallery. The Role of the Trustee in the ‘70s seminar places this organization in the vanguard of organizations considering this difficult problem and we were the first to issue a book on the subject. The secretariat has also pioneered a large scale approach to the question of conservation, first by holding a seminar to introduce our directors to conservation and conservators, and then in the summer or 1971, to conduct a comprehensive professional survey of all of the galleries in Ontario. The results of this survey indicate a central conservation centre is necessary in Ontario and the secretariat is proceeding with plans to realize this centre.

The secretariat has acted as a central office for three regional programs in Kingston, Brantford and Windsor areas. These projects were funded by the Ontario Arts Council and administered by the regional galleries. It prepared the grant requests for the regional programs, made funds from this grant available to the various regional projects, and worked in close cooperation with the programs while they were operating.

The central office was asked to investigate the question of statutory grants and was able, after numerous meetings with government officials and the Ontario Arts Council through a Committee, to come up with a formula for supplementary grants to art galleries. This grant request was rejected by the provincial government and new efforts are now being made to obtain direct funds through the Department of Universities and Colleges.

OAAG, in the past three years has, through its secretariat, been able to meet all of the purposes of the Association.

This outline indicates that we have reached a plateau as a result of our present purposes, our present membership, the structure and our present Executive and developments in government particularly. The question which must be answered is whether we will continue as we are presently structured or whether major changes will be required to meet new goals. We have been remarkably successful in meeting our old goals and achieving the purposes which we set for ourselves three years ago. We must now decide which direction we will take and how we can best serve the visual arts, ourselves as institutions, the artists and the public of Ontario.

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Looking Back: Nostalgia that Works by Pamela Wachna, Experience 1978 Project
OAAG is celebrating its 10th anniversary after more than thirty years of promoting and providing excellence in every facet of presenting art to the people of Ontario!?!

No, the first paragraph is neither a typographical nor mathematical error. The real beginnings of what is now OAAG date back to 1947, and are both interesting and significant in that they reflect and even anticipated growing awareness and interest of the public in art.

Back in 1947, T. R. MacDonald of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Clara Bice of the London Public Library and Art Museum, Nicholas Ignatieff of Hart House, University of Toronto, and Kenneth Saltmarche of the Willistead Art Gallery of Windsor, joined together to form the Southern Ontario Galleries Group. Basically, what the galleries had in common was little money and staff. These four men wanted to find a way to organize a sufficient number of quality art exhibitions which individually they couldn’t do. Each gallery would be responsible for producing one show a year which would then be exchanged with the other galleries. One of the first shows organized and circulated by the Willistead Art Gallery was “Canadian Prints and Drawings.”

Eventually requests came from the other galleries and civic centres for the circulating exhibitions. Due to limited financial support, the Southern Ontario Galleries Group was able to accommodate only a few of these. This demand however, pointed out the need for an organization which would somehow fulfill the requests for art shows, especially to those areas that were without permanent art collections.

In response to this increasing demand for circulating exhibitions, the Art Institute of Ontario was formed in November of 1952. The nine founding members were the London Public Library and Art Museum, The Ontario Association of Architects, The Willistead Art Gallery of Windsor, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hart House, University of Toronto, The National Gallery of Canada, The Art Gallery of Toronto, The Ontario Society of Artists and The Royal Ontario Museum.

This organization, with the potential to reach a larger number of people and especially those in more outlying areas, hoped to continue on a larger scale the work originally begun by the Southern Ontario Galleries Group. The founding members used their collections and facilities to arrange and circulate various art shows. During the first years of operation, the Institute received a yearly grant of $5,000 from the Atkinson Foundation. However, from 1954 until 1959, at which time the Institute finally received an $8,000 grant from the Canada Council, it was virtually inactive.

The shows organized proved to be most successful, with 60,000 people attending such exhibitions in 1959. By 1964, the need for full-time director was met and Paul Bennett was hired to perform such duties as arranging tours, locating exhibitions and providing the necessary publicity. The popularity of the exhibitions continued to increase as did the encouraging public support. For the 1965-66 season, there were 50 circulating art shows available which had over 450 bookings with an estimated attendance exceeding 400,000 people.

Perhaps one of the most successful endeavours undertaken by the Institute was the northern tour conducted by Paul Bennett. Travelling with a collection of paintings by Canadian artists, Paul Bennett visited towns in northern Ontario meeting a wide range of people many of whom had never seen a real oil painting. The enthusiastic receptions which he received at virtually every stop on his itinerary were indicative of the popularity of the travelling art shows. There should be little doubt that the recently proposed Exhibit Train would be any less successful.

At a meeting held in July of 1967, Paul Bennett and William Withrow discussed plans for the amalgamation of the Art Institute of Ontario with the Art Gallery of Ontario whereby its newly organized Extension Services would continue with the production of circulating exhibitions. On June 30, 1968, the Art Institute of Ontario was formally dissolved.

Although there was no longer any need for an association of art galleries to promote and organize exhibitions, it was suggested by William Forsey, then of the Art Gallery of Ontario, at the final meeting in June of 1968, that an association of public art galleries in Ontario be formed so that they could meet to discuss their problems. Those present agreed that members of such an organization could work more effectively together than individually, especially in regard to seeking financial aid from the government. Also, the larger, more experienced galleries could provide professional advice to the smaller and emerging galleries.

On August 28, 1968, eleven former members of the Art Institute of Ontario met at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in order to “explore possibilities and advantages of forming an association.” Out of this meeting came an organization originally known as the Ontario Association of Art Museums.

At the next meeting which was held in October of the same year, the purposes of the Association were stated as follows:

1. To encourage the closest possible cooperation between member galleries and museums.
2. To encourage close cooperation between the Ontario Association of Art Museums and the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts and other similar agencies.
3. To assist developing visual art centres in the province.
4. To promote high standard of excellence, and uniform methods, in the care and presentation of works of art.
5. To serve as an advisory body in matters of professional interest.

It was not until the next meeting in January of 1969 that the name of the organization was changed by substituting the word “galleries” for “museums.” Apparently this was done since all members except the Royal Ontario Museum were known as art galleries.

Within just one year of operation, the membership grew from the original eleven members to twenty-one. The increasing membership over the past ten years gives just one indication of OAAG’s effectiveness and importance. (Questions are now being raised as to whether or not a ceiling should be put on the total membership.) In order to accommodate smaller art centres, which didn’t qualify as “full members,” a new category was formed. The “associate” status enabled them to join OAAG and therefore benefit from its resources and knowledge. These “affiliate members” as they are known today, number a total of 32. Other categories of membership include “Full” and “Business” with membership numbering 43 and 4 respectively, bringing OAAG’s total membership to 79. [Please note that this article was written in 1978 and does not necessarily reflect the current membership.]

In the early 1970s due to the success and increased workload of the organization, volunteer services no longer proved to be sufficient and the Ontario Arts Council was approached for funding. A grant to operate a secretariat in a central office was provided and OAAG was then able to expand its services considerably. Jeremy Watney was appointed in January 1970 as the first Executive Secretary. After his resignation in December 1972, Rory O’Donal took over the position several months later.

Over the past ten years, OAAG has sponsored many successful seminars and projects which no doubt will have a lasting effect on the role of the art gallery in our society. One of the major undertakings of OAAG has been to examine the role of the trustee. This important topic which needed to be studied, would probably never have been done by a single gallery. A book was published on the subject, requests for which are still being received at the secretariat. Successful seminars such as this one reflect the capabilities and awareness of the association which aims to better the present condition of art galleries across the province and Canada too.

Of major concern to all art galleries and museums is the issue of conservation. So many valuable works of art are slowly deteriorating before our eyes. Without adequate facilities and funding as well as an awareness of this problem, we stand to lose various possessions of our historical past. In the early 1970s a seminar was first held to introduce the topic, followed by a professional survey of the collections in certain art galleries in the province. Today OAAG is still working diligently on this project in order to establish a permanent conservation centre which is desperately needed.

Other pertinent topics germane to the operation of an art gallery have also been examined by OAAG. After much study, a formula was devised, in answer to the question of statutory grants, whereby a fair and equitable distribution of funds on a continuing basis would be provided by the government. In November of 1977, the Ministry of Culture and Recreation developed a new system of funding which was based on the brief prepared by OAAG. During the Spring of 1978 two very important seminars were organized by OAAG. As a general interest course and of special assistance to emerging galleries was the seminar on the topic of installation. The most recent seminar was entitled “3M” which dealt with money, manpower and marketing within the operating framework of the public art gallery.

As we look at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries today, keeping in mind the purposes originally set down in 1968, one can say that the organization has served its membership well. As in the past and surely in the future, OAAG will be a viable force whose voice will continue to be heard in the art world.

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Board of Directors
© 2004 Ontario Association of Art Galleries