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Where Loves: the AGO’s 1st Thursdays and Toronto’s Emerging Art Parties


AGO 1st Thursdays

Art gallery or party space? The AGO becomes both on the first Thursday of each month (photo courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

Picture an art gallery: paintings in gilded frames, a sculpture or two sitting on pedestals, a couple strolling slowly from piece to piece, footfalls echoing off the hardwood. How long has that stereotype endured? How long has it been utterly inaccurate?

Instead, you ought to imagine perusing masterpieces with your friends, cocktails in hand. You ought to see yourself dancing the night away while surrounded all manner of art and art lovers. At least, that’s the scene at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On the first Thursday of every month, the venerable institution transforms to host an evening soiree of the highest order, bringing together young Toronto trendsetters with food, drinks, live music, dancing and art-making experiences. Running since last October, the events have proven so popular that tickets regularly sell out well in advance. This month’s edition is already full, but admission for March goes on sale February 8.

Among the 1st Thursday events’ major draws are their incorporation of live performances by top Toronto bands and DJs, who get the crowd singing and dancing in the AGO’s spacious Walker Court. Past performers have included indie darlings including Bahamas and Basia Bulat, while February’s event promises First Nations DJ collective A Tribe Called Red, whose high-energy shows incorporate large-scale video projections that will no doubt feature prominently at this, their upcoming “gallery show.”

Of course that’s not the only way that visuals figure into the party. The AGO’s 1st Thursdays are indicative of our evolving ideas about how we access, understand and create art. At each event, guests are encouraged to participate in a number of interactive art projects, rather than passively observing the pieces on display (though that option remains available). During the inaugural 1st Thursday, for example, easels encircled a chiseled male model with bleach blonde locks; the bold and willing gathered around to negotiate human anatomy on paper. For those unsure of their artistic prowess, a martini from one of several bars perhaps provided the necessary confidence boost. Other offerings bring learning to the fore, with professional artists discussing their own works placed throughout the gallery or presenting hands-on workshops.

The AGO isn’t the only Toronto institution attracting younger, hipper patrons by remaking itself as a multifaceted nightlife venue. Even before 1st Thursdays, the Royal Ontario Museum organized its Friday Night Live series of happenings; every Friday the ROM’s dinosaur skeletons and Egyptian mummies served as a backdrop for dancing to DJ beats, jamming with jazz musicians and more. The third season of ROM parties is slated to begin in May, giving Torontonians and visitors even more reason to spend a night a museum.

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