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Art Centre director focuses on academic engagement

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

As acting director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, a role she assumed in the fall of 2012, Jan Allen made a concerted effort to expand the gallery’s connections with the academic community. She wants to see that work continue and grow now that she has been appointed director of the Art Centre.

[Jan Allen, Director, Agnes Etherington Art Centre]Jan Allen, the new director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, joined the gallery as an associate curator in 1992.

“Academic engagement is a big thrust right now. We started building on that a little over a year ago when we clarified the ways the academic community can work with us and how we can support their work,” she says. “We reached out to specific faculty members, and we are gradually increasing our reach.”

Ms. Allen points to the upcoming exhibition, Rembrandt’s Circle: Making History, as one successful outcome of this increased focus on collaboration. Stephanie Dickey, the Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art in the Department of Art History, and a group of her undergraduate and graduate students developed the exhibition, which opens on February 1. They researched and selected the works from the Art Centre’s holdings to show how Rembrandt’s friends and pupils popularized their master’s practice of history painting.

“The process of developing this exhibition is a great example of experiential, hands-on learning through which students encounter the practical and theoretical aspects of working in the field,” Ms. Allen said.

The Art Centre and the Art History program have also worked together to submit a Queen’s National Scholar proposal in Indigenous Visual and Material Cultures of the Americas. The proposal has reached the second stage of the competition and, if successful, “would bring us a much desired specialist and also provide an integrated approach to student involvement with the collection and our exhibition program,” says Ms. Allen.

Fostering collaborative work is just one aspect that excites Ms. Allen about leading the Art Centre. She enjoys working with a talented staff that is increasingly gaining recognition for their work. Furthermore, the Art Centre’s holdings continue to grow both in terms of size and quality.

“Many pieces are coming together to increase the profile of the gallery. We know the calibre of work we are doing allows us to work well internationally, and in this we can help extend Queen’s global reach,” she says.
Ms. Allen will work closely with the Office of the Provost to respond to recommendations of the recently completed external review of the Art Centre. The reviewer’s report will be released in the coming weeks. During the review process, she was inspired to learn what people value in the gallery and to examine areas it can improve as an educational resource and as a public art museum for Kingston and the region.

“Jan Allen has expertly guided the Art Centre during this period of transition. I am confident she will continue to use her skills and connections to good effect to lead the gallery,” said Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic).

Ms. Allen joined the Art Centre in 1992 as an associate curator after completing her MA in Art History at Queen’s. Her current curatorial project features the work of renowned Canadian photographer Geoffrey James. Inside, which opens in fall 2014 at the Art Centre, captures of the final months of operation of the Kingston Penitentiary.

“For a long time I have been actively involved in working with artists and developing exhibitions, so the greater concentration on administration and the overall creative direction of the gallery in my new role is a big transition for me. I am tremendously excited to move into this phase of my career and use my experience, knowledge and networks across the university, Canada and internationally as director of the Art Centre.”