Queen’s University art centre set to become the largest university museum in Canada

Arts and culture

Queen’s University art centre set to become the largest university museum in Canada

The transformation of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre will soon begin, turning it into a model 21st-century university museum, thanks to generous donations from the Bader family.

By Communications Staff

March 26, 2024


Rendering of Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Rendering of the new home of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, set to open in 2026. (PFS Studio)

A date is now set for the start of construction that will completely transform the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University and make it into the largest public university-affiliated museum in Canada. Work will begin on May 13, 2024, with the new space scheduled to open in 2026.

Agnes’s new three-floor building will double the existing gallery space. The historic Etherington House will also be turned into a live-in artist residency and community-facing culture hub. Throughout the new space, Western and Indigenous worldviews will sit side by side as equal.

Agnes Reimagined is made possible with a US$75 million gift from Bader Philanthropies, Inc and through the leadership and philanthropy of the late Alfred Bader (Sc'45, Arts'46, MSc'47, LLD'86) and the late Isabel Bader (LLD’07).

“The start of construction on this project is exciting not just for Queen’s and Agnes but for anyone who cares about the future of museums in Canada,” says Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator of Agnes. “Thanks to our extensive community-engaged design process, unique in the country, Agnes Reimagined is poised to be at the forefront of museological change in Canada, especially as we commit to the fundamental and holistic incorporation of Indigenous worldviews in all that we do.”

New gallery space

Gallery space will be found on both the ground and second floors, where works from across Agnes’s large and diverse collections of more than 17,000 objects will be on display. The new galleries will also be an ideal new home for The Bader Collection at Agnes, which includes the most comprehensive collection of authenticated paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn and his circle in any institution within Canada. These works are gifts from the Bader family.

Head of an Old Man with Curly Hair by Rembrandt

Rembrandt's "Head of an Old Man with Curly Hair," gifted to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's by Daniel and Linda Bader in honour of Daniel's late father Alfred Bader.

“The new home for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre will cement Queen’s reputation as a premier destination for research and education in the visual arts,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “We are immensely grateful to the Bader family for the generous gift that makes this project possible. Agnes Reimagined will push boundaries, support state-of-the-art research, and educate and excite visitors from across the country and around the globe.”

The ground floor will also feature a welcome centre that aims to serve as a kind of ‘living room,’ with porches where members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities as well as visitors can gather, relax, and reflect. Next to the welcome centre will be interactive spaces, including a children’s maker space, an art study centre, an art studio, galleries, seating, a café, and more. A new 250-person capacity Arts & Events Hub will be ideal for concerts, performances, screenings, art installations, conferences, and dinners.

Rendering of Agnes Reimagined

Agnes Reimagined will have a new covered entrance on Bader Lane. (Studio Sang, courtesy of KPMB Architects)

Indigenous worldviews integral to Agnes

Indigenous Self-Determination Spaces on the second floor will fully support cultural practices not typically considered in Western institutional spaces. Among other features, an outdoor medicine garden will nourish practices extending across the museum’s entire ecosystem. A purposefully reimagined Keeping Place, designed around ancestors’ needs, will also paradigmatically shift care away from Western ideas of preservation to create living spaces for this evolving work to take precedence.

“Indigenous Self-Determination spaces will allow for the continued use and implementation of our cultural practices and traditions, while also providing a safe space for Indigenous staff, faculty, students, and guests alike,” says Te howis kwûnt (Allen Doxtator), Cultural Advisor in the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s. “Another part of building Indigenous specific spaces is the education they can provide for non-Indigenous visitors, while also moving the institution towards more meaningful allyship and working friendships.”

Rendering of Agnes Reimagined

Rendering of the view of east terrace between Agnes Etherington House and the new pavilion. (KPMB Architects)

The future of studying art at Queen’s

The third floor of the new building will be dedicated to advanced art teaching and research labs for the art conservation program and enhanced object-based learning for the Department of Art History and Art Conservation, leading to exciting possibilities for collaboration and synergy among art conservation, fine art, art history, and Agnes’s activities. The new facilities will create opportunities for groundbreaking technical art research and experiential art-based learning for art students, as well as for a range of other academic disciplines, including engineering, business, health sciences, humanities, and physical sciences.

“Agnes Reimagined will fundamentally change the way art and art conservation are studied at Queen's University, enabling students to work more directly with some of the most advanced equipment and important collections in North America,” says Norman Vorano, Department Head and Associate Professor, Art History and Art Conservation. “The project is redefining student engagement, fostering deeper, more dynamic connections to art, artists, and cultural heritage. It’s not just about enhancing academic programs; it’s about equipping students to tackle global challenges head-on with creativity and innovation.”

Museum professionals outside Queen’s are expressing their enthusiasm for Agnes Reimagined as well.

“Agnes is quickly becoming a model of what a vibrant arts and culture institution can be today and into the future,” says Barbara Fischer, Executive Director & Chief Curator, Art Museum University of Toronto, Director, MVS Curatorial Studies, Associate Professor, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. “At a time when many institutions find themselves struggling with trust and purpose under the weight of their history, Agnes is tapping into the pulse of the art to bring people together and celebrate community in resplendent diversity -- with infectious warmth and playful lucidity.”

Agnes’s current physical space will be closed starting March 29 with the end of their current exhibitions, but Agnes’s team will remain active collaborating on exhibits with other museums in Ontario, finding new ways to connect with the community, and preparing for the opening of their new art centre.

Learn more on the Agnes Etherington Art Centre website.

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