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$75 million gift from Bader family enables Art Centre to become the face of evolving museum culture of the 21st century
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$75 million gift from Bader family enables Art Centre to become the face of evolving museum culture of the 21st century

The $75 million donation from Bader Philanthropy Inc. will support the redevelopment of Agnes Etherington Art Centre to begin renovations over the next two years at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

The museum will increase in size by 200 per cent and renovations will make Agnes Etherington Art Centre the largest university museum in Canada.

The reimagining of Agnes will be built upon the concept of hospitality and inclusivity, intending to capture the atmosphere of a ‘home,’ as it was when Kingston philanthropist, Agnes Etherington herself, resided in the building.

Etherington lived in Kingston on University Avenue, helping to establish the university fine arts program in the 1930s. Her home was a gathering place for artists and students. After her death in 1954, the home was gifted to Queen’s University and is now known today as Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

“Agnes was compelled to think very seriously about what it means to further the cause of art and community and to think very seriously about the art museum’s role in furthering social justice because a museum of the past is no longer a relevant teacher,” Director and Curator of Agnes, Emelie Chhangur, said in an interview.

The ground floor will become a 250-person capacity “welcome centre” which will be referred to as the “living room.” The room will use household vernacular, featuring outdoor and indoor porches and couches Queen’s students and Kingston community members can enjoy.

The dream art house’s focus on hospitality and inclusivity will invite the Kingston community to think of the gallery as theirs, removing boundaries separating Agnes and the Queen’s community from them.

The new building will include the construction of Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s first café and bedrooms for the live-in artist residencies to commemorate how the house was originally used in Etherington’s time.

The renovation planned for the museum was developed through talking and sharing circles, aiming to decolonize the process of building the new museum, rather than just the final project alone. Everyone was included in the planning process, including the architects, to invite the community into the project.

The KPMB architects, led by Bruce Kuwabara and Indigenous affairs consultant, Georgina Riel, are working to make Agnes Reimagined come to life. The firm was chosen to illustrate Agnes’ practice of rejecting traditional museum limitations and transforming museum culture by emphasizing diversity and situating Western and Indigenous worldviews side by side as equals.

The second floor of Agnes Reimagined will include Indigenous Self-Determination Spaces, an outdoor medicinal garden, and a purposefully reimagined Keeping Place. The new shift will see an invitation to Indigenous traditions and cultural practices while simultaneously striving towards meaningful allyship.

This approach to planning symbolizes Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s commitment to the future of museums and restructuring traditional foundations to create a truly welcoming environment.

“The idea of hospitality means that everybody has a space, and everyone feels like they belong at Agnes,” Chhangur said.

“Agnes Etherington Art Centre intends to hold multiplicity, eradicate hierarchies, and practice equality at every opportunity they can,” Chhangur said in an interview with The Journal. “We want to take the pressing issues that museums face and properly deal with them.”

Agnes Reimagined will become a modern dream museum house that brings a fresh approach to the museum sector with its focus on human togetherness.

Daniel J. Bader is the visionary leader and architect of the Foundation’s philanthropic giving in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and around the world. Dan was the founding CEO of the Helen Bader Foundation in 1992. He works closely with the Board of Directors to set the organizational direction and long-term strategies which guide the Foundation’s goals and culture.

He serves on several local, national and global boards and committees which broaden his perspective on how the Foundation can transform lives though its grantmaking, program related investments and convenings. Dan’s board appointments include: Greater Milwaukee Committee for Community Development, Relief International and Rogers Behavioral Health.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2006, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in recognition of his efforts to improve the quality of life in the city. In 2019, Cardinal Stritch University conferred a doctor of humane letters, honoris causa degree, in recognition of his daily commitment to active engagement and an enduring investment in educational and social justice programs that cultivate the minds and hearts of all people. In 2021, Queen’s University in Canada awarded Dan an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD).

Alfred and Helen Daniels Bader’s older son, David, is Vice President of Bader Philanthropies, Inc. and a Director on the Board. David is an architect by training with a specialty in three-dimensional rendering and animation.

Currently, he is President of Fat Badger Bakery, a vegan cookie company, located in Pipersville, PA. David holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He has also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia.

Photo: Dan Bader

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