The Rooms Provincial
Art offers us the opportunity to explore our collective human experience; public art galleries are among the places where this can happen. The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador is the major public gallery in the province, presenting and interpreting the visual arts in all their richness and diversity to people within the province and beyond. The gallery exhibits original visual art, does research, provides education about art, and is responsible for permanent art collections held in trust for the public.
About the Gallery
Previously known as the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador (AGNL) and located at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre, it became a part of the provincially owned The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2004. The Rooms is located at 9 Bonaventure Avenue and provides 10,000 square feet of gallery space for permanent collections and travelling exhibits. Its design and name pay tribute to the traditional buildings, known as fishing 'rooms,' where the province's fishers once processed their catch and stored nets and other equipment. Alongside the gallery, The Rooms is home to the provincial archives and museum.
Open year-round, the gallery has an annual budget of $1 million and a permanent staff of 12. It shows temporary exhibitions on the third and fourth floors of The Rooms and exhibits works from its permanent collections on the fourth floor. It also maintains a shared exhibit with the museum and archives on the second floor. The gallery presents about 20 exhibitions in St. John's annually, normally balanced between exhibitions produced by the gallery and those borrowed from elsewhere. The gallery's primary exhibition focus is contemporary Canadian art, with a specific commitment to that of Newfoundland and Labrador. Historical art, art from other countries, folk art, and crafts are also sometimes included.
The "Permanent Collections"
The gallery manages collections of original fine art, including that of Memorial University of Newfoundland, the J. K. Pratt Memorial Collection, the Provincial Art Gallery Permanent Collection, and the Art Procurement Collection of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Known together as the "Permanent Collections," they comprise over 7,000 works of art. The collections are primarily of post-1960 Canadian art, but also include historical works. Art with connections to Newfoundland and Labrador is a special focus, with major holdings of such artists as Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt, Gerald Squires, David Blackwood, Reginald Shepard, Helen Parsons Shepherd, Don Wright and Anne Meredith Barry. Donations of art are an important aspect of the collections' growth; the gallery can provide charitable donation receipts for these gifts.
Education and Outreach
Education and outreach goals are important to the gallery. There is an active program of school visits, group tours, talks by artists, children's workshops, public receptions and concerts. Volunteers or 'friends of the gallery' help with these activities, with fundraising and in other ways.
A pilot program called "Artists in the Schools" began in 1997. Organized by the gallery, professional artists have provided week-long, intensive, hands-on learning experiences for school classes of various levels. The artists have led discussions about works of art and, if appropriate, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery. Parents can get involved, and sometimes a collaboratively made art project has been left as a legacy at the school. The Canada Council for the Arts and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council have funded these projects.
After being unable to do so for some years, the gallery began sending exhibitions to other parts of the province again in the summer of 1997. Communities hosting the gallery's exhibitions have contributed to this endeavour by providing a secure exhibition space, some funding, and assistance with associated events and publicity. Another example of community outreach has been the 1997 partnership with Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine, establishing a part-time Visual Artist in Residence at the School of Medicine.
Nationally, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery is part of a network of about 120 public and university art galleries and 1,700 museums. The gallery mails publications about exhibitions and activities to galleries and media contacts across Canada.
The gallery began in the university library in 1961, as the Art Gallery, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Artist Christopher Pratt was the gallery's first curator, in charge of its exhibition and public education activities, and its permanent collection of art. Moving to the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre in 1968, but remaining part of the university, the gallery took on a more active provincial role, organizing touring exhibitions to other arts and culture centres on a regular basis. Memorial's Art Gallery became the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1994, and then The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in 2004. Over the years, its curators have included Peter Bell, Frank Lapointe, Edythe Goodridge, Patricia Grattan, Gordon Laurin, and Shauna McCabe. Later, Bruce Johnson became the Curator of Contemporary Art, and Caroline Stone the Curator of Historical Art and Collections. Megan Williams became the gallery's director. The present (2023) acting Director of Museums and Galleries is Kate Wolforth.