Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada


Discover the Reinvigorated Artistic Gem of the North

By Dr. Curtis Collins

As the new Director of the Art Gallery of Algoma (AGA), I was immediately impressed by this institution’s superb facility, picturesque location and brilliant holdings. The AGA is an exceptional cultural venue in Northern Ontario, which features three distinct exhibition spaces, an extensive permanent collection of Canadian and international art and a magnificent sculpture garden overlooking the St. Marys River.

Located on Sault Ste. Marie’s pristine waterfront, the AGA’s building and grounds are key destinations for tourists and locals alike, who crave an artistic experience of the highest caliber. The Gallery offers historical and contemporary art exhibitions that change on a regular basis, as well as a variety of special events throughout the year. Admission to the Art Gallery of Algoma is always “pay what you can.” The AGA’s other services include the Minutia Coffee Bar and a Gift Shop, while the Gallery’s Studio hosts a full range art making workshops for children and adults.


The AGA’s 10,000 square foot red brick building at 10 East Street, just south of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library, was conceived by local architect R.V.B. Burgoyne who envisioned a “people centre”. Dramatic diagonal roof lines and the lobby’s two storey window walls are among the facility’s defining features, which for over three decades has served the public well. The Gallery’s original design included a principal exhibition room, a multipurpose room, an education studio, art preparation room, a vault, a gift shop and offices. Following its opening in 1980 the Art Gallery of Algoma was designated as a “Category A” institution by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. Michael Burtch served as Director-Curator of the AGA for 27 years until his retirement in 2008, and during his tenure the institution developed an impressive programming history complimented by an extensive permanent art collection.

The AGA’s facility has undergone both minor and major renovations over the past decade including: a reconfiguration of the Gift Shop, a resealing of the building’s envelope, and an update to the physical plant. From the start of my tenure as Director in the Spring of 2009, I have focused on propelling the Gallery’s appearance, programming and services into the 21st Century. A combination of government and private funding enabled the AGA to undergo an extensive renovation to its exhibition spaces through the Fall of 2009. The carpeting that had covered the floors and walls of the principal exhibition and multi-purpose rooms since 1980 was replaced with wood veneer floors and gyprock wall surfaces. The multi-purpose room was also divided into two smaller spaces known as the Project Room and the Education Gallery, while the Education Studio has been repainted and refitted. The Art Gallery of Algoma now features three distinct exhibition spaces of the highest display quality, which are unparalleled in Northern Ontario and consistent with the most professional cultural venues across North America.

The reinvigoration of the AGA’s exhibition spaces has been matched by a reorientation of the Gallery’s programming to better serve the local community and offer tourists an enriching artistic experience. The Main Gallery is now reserved exclusively for exhibitions of contemporary and historic art by professional artists from the Algoma region, throughout Ontario and across Canada as well as the United States. Outstanding examples of painting, sculpture, installation, photography and new media are among the many disciplines that visitors can witness. The new Project Room presents artists from the region with an opportunity to stretch their artistic practices, while also serving as a more intimate venue for the region’s many art societies. Thus visitors can engage with the most avant-garde work produced in Northern Ontario or enjoy more traditional local approaches to cultural expression. The Education Gallery is devoted to a wide variety of student-based exhibitions from Sault Ste. Marie and area, enabling residents and tourists alike a chance to observe creations by artists of the future.

The AGA’s lobby also serves as a venue for the Gallery’s permanent collection of over 5,000 works which includes paintings by the Group of Seven, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Beam, Jack Bush and Ghitta Caiserman-Roth as well as sculptures by Evan Penny and Sir Anthony Caro. Other services offered by the AGA include a wonderful range of locally produced crafts and art-related items available in the Gift Shop. From May through to September the AGA’s new Minutia Coffee Bar serves a variety of gourmet coffees, exotic teas, and fresh baked goods to be enjoyed from tables that overlook the St. Marys River or while lounging outdoors in the adjacent park.

The Art Gallery of Algoma is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday 11:00am to 6:00pm, so come discover this artistic gem of the North.


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