University gets $54M to revitalize art centre

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The Agnes Etherington Art Centre will undergo a $54-million revitalization and expansion that will make it the largest university art museum in the country and a leader in art exhibition and education.

The US$40-million donation from Bader Philanthropies, which acts on behalf of Alfred and Isabel Bader, frequent contributors to Queen’s University, was announced during a video conference Tuesday morning. It’s the largest cash donation in the university’s history.

The revitalized gallery, which last underwent renovations in 2000, will “revolutionize” the way people experience and explore art, Daniel J. Bader, CEO of Bader Philanthropies, said during the online announcement.

“We’ve been thinking about this, dreaming about this for a long time, I guess you could say, and really just so pleased with the combined vision of the university, of the family, of the foundation all coming together with something that we know will be extraordinary for everybody,” he said.


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The details of how the University Avenue facility will be transformed aren’t known yet as formal “visioning” exercises of what the new and improved space will look like are expected to begin soon. The goal is to open a revitalized Agnes by 2024.

While the new space will house the extensive Bader Collection, which includes four Rembrandts, as well as its other artworks, it will also become home to Queen’s University’s art conservation and art history students.

“Today’s announcement is an exciting step toward making Queen’s one of the world’s foremost leaders in arts education,” explained Principal Patrick Deane, who heard a bit about the project before he assumed his current position. The university hopes to introduce a doctorate program in art conservation, which would make it only the second university in North America with one.

Deane said that the new Agnes will not only benefit the university, but also the city, as has other projects to which the Bader family has donated, such as the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. The revitalized Agnes will draw tourists and scholars alike, Deane feels.

“The benefits to the city are incalculable in terms of their ability to attract visitors who will stay in this community, enjoy the other amenities this community has to offer, and generally realize the full potential of the City of Kingston as a destination for visitors,” said Deane, echoing prerecorded remarks by Mayor Bryan Paterson and MPP Ian Arthur.

“So it’s very exciting.”

Tuesday’s donation is one of many donations that have taken place over the past month.

Recently, the Jarislowsky Foundation donated $1 million to buy equipment that will help the university develop better art conservation techniques.

Also, Marjorie Ernestine Bernstein donated $3.5 million to the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in honour of her late daughter, Jennifer Velva Bernstein, after whom the King Street faciltiy’s performance hall will now be named.