100 minutes, 100 years, two artistic spaces

Together, The Agnes and Modern Fuel celebrate a combined 100 years of art in Kingston

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
Journal File Photo

On October 12, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre held a celebration to recognize their 60th and 40th anniversaries, respectively.

Both institutions collaborated at the Agnes with “100 Minutes for 100 Years.” With each presenter having a maximum of 10 minutes — which corresponded with each decade — a forum of 10 presenters offered anecdotes of their participation on either institution.

Inaugurated in 1957, the Agnes has undergone extensions to the building in 1962, 1975, 1978 and 2000 because its collections and programs grew.

Meanwhile off-campus, the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre (MFARC) started as the Kingston Artists' Association Inc. (KAAI) in 1977, as a non-for-profit organization. It was developed by artists to support innovative and alternative art production for local artists and beyond.

“In the early years of MFARC, there [was] a mixture of local artists shown who often don’t get opportunities to show in other cities. Artist-run centres became the place where people really wanted to show,” Sarindar Dhaliwal, speaker for the first decade of Modern Fuel said.

Though these artistic institutions are unlike in many ways, they nonetheless share a similar commitment to the visual arts in the Kingston community.

Many Agnes speakers reminisced on staff members who created a welcoming environment for students and professors as the centre became a valuable resource for pedagogical opportunities in the University.

It’s easy to consider the Agnes’ development as being swift and without challenges, but former Director of the gallery in the '70s, Michael Bell, acknowledged the importance of funding from the government to start programming and creating exhibitions that would make an international mark.

Professor Emeritus and Queen’s Research Chair, Department of Art History and Art Conservation, Pierre du Prey, remembered the student-curated exhibitions his students participated in the '90s, giving them their first real taste of the art world.

Most recently, Sarah E.K. Smith, former curator at the Agnes and Assistant Professor in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University, Sarah E.K. Smith, spoke about her involvement with the art gallery starting when she was a BFA student until she completed her Ph.D. at Queen’s while subsequently working as the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Agnes.

While the Agnes collected historical and contemporary artworks and started to develop into an art museum, MFARC focused on showing emerging artists.

As a result, MFARC depended on grants and other funding to remain active. Even though it lost its funding in 1992, the Centre stayed afloat through volunteers from the community and their Board of Directors. Sandra Jass, former member of the Board of Directors at the MFARC, used the Millennium Project (2001) as an example of resilience, as the Centre used what they had for projects that were still innovative and exciting.

MFARC moved to a new location at the Tett Centre in 2014, undertaking a new challenge to remain relevant in the rapid professionalization of art organizations.

Taking place during Homecoming weekend, the old and new staff members and participants of both organizations came together to reflect on these struggles and successes. But more importantly, the event became a place for new hope as both institutions advanced to a new phase.

“It shows that we’re benefitting from each other’s different ethos and audiences that gives each respective community a broader community. It’s important to know how we support each other regardless of how different the mandate of our institutions are,” Aida Sulks, a long-standing member of the MFARC and Agnes Art Instructor said.

The forum revealed stories and experiences that display perseverance and resilience on the difficult terrain of the visual arts in Kingston and Canada. With the help of Queen`s and the Kingston community, both institutions were sustained and continue to be places of enjoyment, investigation and participation in community visual arts.


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