I was afraid to go into art galleries…and now I work in one.

By Abbey Lee Hallett, Audience Engagement Coordinator at The Art Gallery of Windsor

I have stood in a great many art galleries and felt completely confused. As someone who went to school for theatre rather than visual arts, I often felt as though I had a sign that read “DOES NOT BELONG HERE” in flashing neon print across my forehead during the majority of my gallery experiences.

Fast forward a few years, and now I am working at the Art Gallery of Windsor — and feeling a lot less afraid.

What changed?

Virtual spaces
While I am thoroughly looking forward to the time when it is safe to gather again, it can be more accessible to discuss art when everyone is on the same playing field. We’re all learning and growing together — often while wearing sweatpants — which blurs the power hierarchy of staff versus attendee.

Meeting communities where they’re at
We are very fortunate at the AGW to exist amidst a plethora of community organizations who are doing incredible work. By supporting these organizations in their quest to serve communities in need — rather than stating what we need from them — we have been able to come at partnerships with a sense of cooperation over intimidation.

An open space for learning
While many of my coworkers come from a visual arts background, some — myself included — do not. Many of the gallery staff are also new hires, meaning that regardless of one’s job description, we are all learning from each other. Fostering a space of openness to ask questions and learn about the gallery’s collection, rather than enforcing shame if a staff member has a question about the collection, local artists, or arts education, has helped make the gallery space feel a lot friendlier to a visual arts apprentice like myself.

If you’ve taken part in an AGW program that felt particularly friendly, or if you have any ideas for how we can enhance inclusion within our communities, reach out on social media @agw401, or send me an email at ahallett@agw.ca!

The Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW) is a non-profit public art gallery known for its cutting-edge contemporary art program and Canadian art collections.