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Architect selected for Agnes Reimagined

KPMB will oversee the design phase of the long-term, institutionally-engaged project to update the campus art gallery and bring a revolutionary vision of the role of the art museum to life.
Artist Tannis Nielsen in her installation of Creation in Lii Zoot Tayr (Other Worlds), at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 2021. (Emelie Chhangur)

An internationally recognized architectural firm that has won some of the top accolades in its field will be overseeing the design phase of Agnes Reimagined, an initiative that will breathe new life — and a revolutionary new mission — into the campus art museum.

Agnes Etherington Art Centre announced Thursday that Toronto-based KPMB Architects will oversee the design phase of Agnes Reimagined, the initiative to update the campus art gallery and bring a revolutionary vision of the role of the art museum to life. Georgina Riel, Indigenous Affairs Consultant of RIEL Cultural Consulting will work with KPMB to bring deep knowledge of Kingston and Queen’s University and guide Agnes’s commitment to Indigenization. Jennifer Nagai of PFS Studio will oversee landscape integration.

“The museum of the 21st century can no longer simply be a container of history, as if history has no bearing on our changing contemporary world,” says Agnes’s Director and Curator, Emelie Chhangur. “We are poised to emerge as an influential champion of museological change, advancing our capacity to foster and relay intersectional connections across the disciplines and communities that converge when a public, university-affiliated museum is both civically minded and pedagogically driven. Agnes will thrive equally on her deep community roots and global reach, and importantly, innovate within their intersection, mobilizing the transformative power of art to create more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable worlds.” 

KPMB has realized significant museums and galleries, including the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Remai Modern in Saskatoon, and the Ottawa Art Gallery. Their current participation in paradigm-shifting projects such as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is gaining positive attention. KPMB also has experience balancing Indigenous perspectives with heritage buildings, which will be a focus of the Agnes Reimagined project.

“Agnes Reimagined offers a rare opportunity for a paradigm shift in museums in Canada, and the world, through clear-sighted collaboration, a commitment to innovation, all through the journey of decolonization and the recovery of Indigenized worldviews,” says KPMB founding partner Bruce Kuwabara. 

A history of philanthropy

Agnes Etherington Art Centre has been a vital part of the Queen’s campus since 1957, when it opened in the one-time home of its namesake. Etherington, who was a longstanding patron of the arts in Kingston and member of the suffragette movement, planted the seeds for art centre as early as the 1920s and 1930s when she created a summer school for artists at Queen’s. Upon her death in 1954, she bequeathed her house to Queen’s University in order to “further the cause of art and community.” Since 1957, the Agnes has grown to be a gallery of national and international importance. 

Over the years, the museum expanded to include more than 17,000 works with strengths in Canadian contemporary and historical art in all media, Indigenous art, European paintings and works on paper from the 16th to the 20th century, historical African art, and Canadian decorative arts, quilts, and historical dress. Agnes is one of the largest and most significant university-affiliated galleries in Canada. 

Its collections grew thanks to the generosity of many loyal donors, including Dr. Alfred Bader, (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc;47, LLD’86) who donated more than 500 paintings, sculptures and works on paper that span the 14th through the mid-19th centuries, including three Rembrandt paintings. Alfred’s son Daniel, who, together with his wife, Linda, donated a fourth Rembrandt in 2019. Alfred’s wife, Dr. Isabel Bader (LLD’07) continues to donate works from her and her husband’s extensive collection, and recently funded the creation of a new Bader Chair in Art Conservation that will support the Department of Art History and Art Conservation become world leaders in the field of imaging science.

Continuing this legacy, in 2020, the family’s charitable foundation, Bader Philanthropies, Inc., made a transformational donation of $54 million to launch the Agnes Reimagined campaign. In addition, the foundation has funded a new Curator, Indigenous Arts and Culture, who will be responsible for Agnes’s significant Indigenous art collection of more than 700 works from all periods and its relationship to other collecting areas at Agnes. This curatorship will help the museum realize its commitment to working alongside Indigenous communities and fostering Indigenous-led access to collections.

Programming at Agnes will continue throughout 2022 but will move to a new location when construction begins in the summer of 2023. Watch the transformation unfold with Rehoming Agnes and Collection Count + Care, an integrated program that takes the public behind-the-scenes to explore the work that underpins Agnes Reimagined.