Happy Anniversary to the Art Gallery of Alberta!

This weekend the Art Gallery of Alberta celebrates the one year anniversary of its new building in Churchill Square. It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that the ribbon cutting took place and Edmontonians were clamoring to get a peek at the beautiful facility.

And what a year it has been! Here are some of the highlights of 2010:

  • Attendance more than quadrupled since 2009 – more than 111,000 visitors!
  • Of that number, approximately 87,000 were paid admission, which significantly surpassed the target of 65,000.
  • The number of AGA members increased from 1650 to 5300!
  • A total of 17 exhibitions were presented, 5 of which were dedicated to Alberta arists.
  • Roughly 4700 people in total attended the 395 public tours that were given. In addition, 146 private tours were given to a total of 3150 visitors.
  • School programs grew from 5000 students in 2009 to 14,500 last year.
  • A total of 367 private and corporate events, 24 wedding receptions, and 62 wedding photos sessions took place.

Here are a few graphs to help illustrate the success of 2010:

One of the highlights for me personally was the Refinery series of events. There were three in 2010, and each one was more popular than the last. Over 1700 people attended Refinery, and 800 of those were at the most recent event (it was so popular, people had to be turned away). I wrote about the second Refinery here. The 367 private and corporate events is significant as well. I attended dozens of events that took place at the AGA last year, it’s a great venue.

And who could forget the exhibitions! From Edgar Degas, Francisco Goya, and Edward Burtynsky to Warner Bros., Jonathan Kaiser, and Laura St. Pierre, we had a little bit of everything. I particularly enjoyed the Warner Bros. cartoons and Janet Cardiff & George Miller Bures’ Storm Room.

While the building was the most obvious “new” thing from 2010, let’s not forget that the AGA launched a new restaurant, logo, a new website, and established a presence in social media last year as well. All of those things helped the organization win a variety of awards:

  • Metal Construction Association Presidents Award for Overall Excellence
  • Institutional Winner: Alberta Construction Magazine 2009 Top Projects
  • 2010 Edmonton Economic Development Corporation Recognition Excellence Award
  • Best Cultural Institution 2010 by See Magazine
  • Zinc Restaurant was named one of the Best New Restaurants of 2010 by Where Magazine
  • Allan Scott was named Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Edmonton Association of Fundraising Professionals

Interview with Gilles Hébert, AGA Executive Director

The numbers for 2010 are certainly impressive. I asked Gilles to reflect on the past year. “It’s quite remarkable,” he told me. “The challenge is to maintain the momentum and continue to grow our audience.” In the first two months after the new building opened to the public, more than 30,000 people visited. “Lots of people came initially just to see the inside of the building,” Gilles said. Now he says people are coming back for the programming. “We exist because of the program, not because we have a cool building.”

Gilles said the AGA has seen the most interest in its contemporary programming, which he described as “pretty cool”. The success of the AGA’s contemporary exhibitions has driven interest nationally too. “People are looking to us for these big ambitious shows,” he told me. “They’re drawn in by the level of enthusiasm that is palpable in this community.”

Looking ahead to 2011, Gilles told me the challenge is generating buzz in places other than Edmonton. “There is no other institution like us in this province – we have a provincial mandate.” One of the ways the AGA is doing that is through social media. “We’re finding that these new forms of communication are really driving interest and allowing people to connect with what we’re doing.” He said their social media activities are actually becoming more valuable than traditional printed material and paid advertising, at least in terms of driving audience.

Gilles told me he is really looking forward to the celebration this weekend. “We are so proud to celebrate this milestone.”

Art Gallery of Alberta

Sunday Celebration

The anniversary celebration takes place on Sunday from 11am until 5pm. Here’s a brief description of what to expect:

The day includes the launch of the official AGA building book, presentations by the Citadel Theatre, Alberta Ballet and the Edmonton Opera, exhibition tours, as well as cupcakes for the first 500 visitors.

It should be a great day! You can see the event on ShareEdmonton here. And if you just can’t wait until Sunday, tonight is opening night for the Brian Jungen exhibition which features three sculptural installations.

If you’re taking photos this weekend, be sure to add them to the AGA pool on Flickr. Be sure to follow the Art Gallery of Alberta on Twitter.

You can see my photos of the AGA here. If you’d like a bit of background on the new building, check out my recap of architect Randall Stout’s talk.

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