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
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
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
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
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
1995 - Censorship and the Arts
2001 - Art Gallery Handbook, Volume III
2005 - OAAG Data Exchange, A Profile of Art Galleries in Ontario
2008 - CuratorsinContext.ca
2010 - The Group of Seven Project 1920 -> 2005
2011 - Art Institutions and the Feminist Dialectic (feministdialectic.ca)
2011 - Galleryfinder.ca
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
Looking Back: Nostalgia that Works
by Pamela Wachna, Experience 1978 Project
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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