Adventures of Art: UforU at the AGO

On Friday, UforU went to the Art Gallery of Ontario to bring members together around art. As well, to explore extending the walls of the drop-in to the rest of the city. How can places like art galleries, museums, and libraries be used by street involved adults? How might these institutions collaborate with drop-ins to make their spaces more accessible and welcoming? Read about our reflections and memorable learnings.

Story written by Ryan Collins-Swartz

Just a 12 minute walk away from the Meeting Place sits the AGO.  A space filled with art, architecture, and tons of natural light. Yet, most members have never set foot in the gallery.

We learned through the process that the West Neighbourhood House is actually a Community Member of the AGO, which gives members free admission to the gallery. This was news to us, as well to the members. What other institutions offer community memberships? How can these places be made most accessible for members to know about and use?

After a shortcut through the park (thanks Rachel!) we gathered in front of the gallery and exchanged names. Although faces were familiar, many people met for the very first time. The field trip brought members together who at the Meeting Place were unlikely to spend time with each other. 

UforU art-goers gather in front of the gallery

We picked up our tickets at the Weston Education Centre downstairs and made our way up to bag check. We were told backpacks are allowed in, but they must be held by one’s side at all times. After a little walking around, we made a vote to join the 2 o’clock tour.

Joan was our tour guide. She led us along with a group on a tour she developed with the theme of “ladies in the gallery”. A themed tour is led by a staff member everyday at 2pm. 

The group looks at the first piece on the tour, Warhol’s Elizabeth Taylor

Joan led us through different pieces in the gallery within the theme of “ladies in the gallery.”

Jack admires Warhol’s Elvis taken from Flaming Star.  He quips, “It is unusual to see Elvis in a threatening pose like this”

Members were not the only guests on this tour. We were joined by five other gallery visitors. Members mingled with the other guests and often made each other laugh.

Jack walks with another guest and they discuss Donald Trump. Jack makes him laugh with his clever wordplay.

Joan was well-skilled in giving tours. She started each piece with prompt questions. Members were usual the first in the group to speak up and answer her questions about each piece.

Joan prompts questions about Kathleen Munn, a pioneer of international modernism

We continued into the gallery room of the Group of Seven. Joan explains that the walls in this room are left white and there are no placards explaining each piece because the intention is that patrons will sit down and simply take in the art.

The art and a book on the table led Jared and I to have a conversation about colonization. Jared was very curious about guns and how they were originally produced.

Joan ended the tour in the Gehry Gallery. “What does this architecture remind you of?” she asked.

“A boat. The hull. The inside of a ship,” answered Jared.

Joan went on to explain how Frank Gehry grew up on the nearby Beverley and had the intention of increasing the relationship between the gallery and the neighbourhood with his redesign in 2008. She pointed out to the street at how the street car lines on Dundas are actually connected to the building.

Jack thanks Joan and follows up with questions about Gehry.

After the tour, members continued to explore the building. Jared wanted to go to the basement to see the model ships.

“These are amazing. How do they even make these?”

As we ended the day and walked back to the Meeting Place many questions arose for both myself and the members. Members were curious to where else they could visit in the city. They wanted to know if the community membership also applied to the ROM and Science Centre. Members also wanted to know if there was an easier way they could gain admission into the AGO besides emailing in advance.

I’m left wondering how this experience could be made more repeatable and accessible to members. What if members could just show up to the AGO and be given admission? What if members had more places and sanctuaries in the city they could visit if they felt curious, stressed, or bored?  What if members had a community access card that was good for admission to different places across the city? What if there was a gallery member trained to welcome and orient members in the gallery?

And, often the question after a field trip is what next? What is an appropriate follow-up from this field trip to make this not just a fun day, but a meaningful learning experience? How could practices of reflection be built into the trip?

I suppose social innovation is similar to art in the sense that there is no limit to the questions that can be asked.


UforU continues this week on Thursday April 28th at 1pm with a workshop on “Owning your story” from acclaimed spoken word poet Ian French.

A bientôt!


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