AGO First Thursdays: From the eyes of a Toronto Art Crawl intern

A Night at the Gallery: AGO First Thursdays

Laura Parent, April 8 2016

Having been to two of the AGO’s first Thursdays events now, I feel I am more or less qualified to write a review of the event. Despite being run since 2012, I certainly had no idea that this event existed prior to this year. I naively believed that the ROM was the only cultural institution in the city trying to engage other demographics.

Not unlike the ROM’s Friday night events, the first Thursday of each month is an opportunity for the culturally aware to partake in a night of music, spoken word performance, visual art and, of course, drinking (sorry under 18s). The theme of this month’s event was “Outsiders, Outlaws and Poets”, to coincide with the new Outsiders exhibit.

It is most definitely the busiest I have ever seen the AGO, with the majority of people concentrated somewhere around the two main bars, offering a selection of gourmet late night snacks and drinks, for a price. There is little opportunity for good conversation, so I don’t suggest you take a new date here. You’re also apt to lose them in the crowd!

The second most popular area seems to be the interactive spaces. At the April event, this was situated down the hall from one of the bars, and allowed everyone to color and stamp their own buttons. It was quite the popular activity, so naturally I just watched from afar to avoid the hordes of young adults making their own buttons. Still a little sad I didn’t shove my way in though!

At the March event, there was a space in one of the gallery wings to color postcards with various images of Toronto streets and skylines. This elicited some varied results, with mine staying entirely blank whilst my companions became a beautiful rainbow of colors scribbled across the image. Goes to show you that I’m definitely one of the people going to observe art, not create it!

And what a variety of art there is. Aside from the traditional gallery fare open to be explored after hours (which elicits some “Night at the Museum” type excitement), there is a variety of spoken word, music, discussions and installations to visit.

 Scattered around the second floor were presentations about the new exhibit at the AGO, Outsiders, and some very talented spoken word artists reading poems, novel excerpts and the like, providing a more culturally significant sonic backdrop than the chatter and laughter of young couples and friends exploring the gallery.

The event also features a variety of musical talent that tends to draw a crowd just off the first floor atrium. This month, the acts were Carole Pope and the She Devils, although I was only able to stay awake long enough to see the latter. The ambient lighting and sound helps to create an atmosphere that made me feel like an outsider in the best way possible. To me, it was about people that don’t quite fit the mold but have so much to offer, the way I think we’ve viewed many creative people over the years.

As a twenty-something, it seems I was the prime audience for this event. Most of the people wandering the gallery were other young adults, perhaps those who don’t typically gravitate towards visiting the gallery, but were enticed by the after hours’ drinks and unique experience that I don’t think we typically associate with art galleries.

It’s quite an interesting concept, to create a unified cultural experience within one space that I think many of us forget about, or maybe don’t associate with exciting contemporary culture. It brings together so many different demographics into one space.

While I prefer my art in a quiet gallery, not navigating hordes of people, not quite so late at night, and the ability to explore the entire gallery (although I am now very well acquainted with the main and second floors), I definitely see the merit in events like this. It’s a great way to experience the AGO if you’ve not been, and the idea of going to “just an art gallery” bores you, and an excuse to get out on a weeknight with some friends or your significant other. I hope to see a great deal more of these aggregated cultural events in future around the city!