Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG


Early plans

The project of an art gallery on campus was discussed at Carleton University as early as 1970, just four years after the creation of a department of Art History. An early University brief prepared by the Art Gallery Users Sub-committee noted the growing interest in the arts in Canada. With the support of the Canadian Museums Association, it proposed the creation of a gallery that would satisfy academic requirements for courses in Art History and Museology; enrich and support broadly the academic offerings of the University, particularly in the humanities and social sciences; and respond to the cultural needs of the university community. In addition, the brief argued, the gallery would play the same role as the library, providing storage and display facilities for the university’s expanding collection (then numbering some 83 works of art) as well as research materials. An underground location in the central Quad was selected and a design study commissioned from the Ottawa architectural firm Murray and Murray, but the project died in 1972 when the provincial government froze funding to universities.

A permanent home

Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) ultimately opened in September 1992 as the result of a successful community-wide fundraising campaign, initiated in response to a transformative bequest from Frances and Jack Barwick of Ottawa, who left the University fifty-seven works from their important collection of Canadian art and a generous financial gift.

The University’s broader aim was to create a “unitary fine arts complex” that would group the art gallery together with the art history, film studies, and music departments in space vacated by the library’s technical services branch and the School of Social Work in the St. Patrick’s building on the north edge of campus. It commissioned architect Michael Lundholm to design and renovate spaces for the art gallery on the first and second levels of the building.

Our handsomely retrofitted facility offers a total of 4830 square feet (449 square metres) of exhibition space, divided into three distinctive galleries: two spacious main floor galleries with hardwood floors, one with a 19-foot (5.8-metre) ceiling, and a carpeted mezzanine. In 2013, an underused area of the mezzanine was renovated to create the Carleton Curatorial Laboratory, which features exhibitions curated by members of the Carleton community. Our facilities also include a dedicated loading dock, three collection storage vaults, offices and an exhibition preparation room, for a total area of approximately 9255 square feet (860 square metres).

In addition to the Barwick collection, the art gallery assumed responsibility for the University’s art collection, which had been started in the mid-1960s and was principally Canadian in content, with a small corpus of European prints. The University’s vision for the gallery emphasized the teaching potential of a properly housed collection and the benefit to the University’s public profile in the Ottawa community. Its location on the campus perimeter was expected to make it accessible to non-university visitors.

Building the collection

Building the permanent collection was an important priority for the gallery during its first decade. In 1992, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board designated it a Category “A” institution for the purpose of receiving gifts of certified cultural property. Under Michael Bell, the gallery’s first director, the collection grew rapidly and is now one of the largest university collections in Canada. Built mainly through donations from artists and collectors, it has been a significant source of civic support, allowing the University to put down firm roots in the wider community.

The focus of CUAG’s first decade was directed primarily towards creating a resource that would support research on Canadian art at the undergraduate and graduate levels. To this end, the gallery sought to document in depth the careers of individual artists, acquiring significant bodies of work by a number of contemporary Canadian artists. A secondary aim was to reflect collecting patterns and artistic activity in the region, thus complementing the national orientation of the National Gallery. The rapid growth of the gallery’s first decade has been followed by a period of consolidation, as we seek to build selectively on our areas of strength.


Over its history, CUAG has presented a fresh and stimulating program of contemporary and historical art exhibitions. Its operations are supported financially by the University with multi-year operating funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, as well as from private sources. Exhibitions number from eight to twelve annually; as of September 2018, 365 exhibitions have been curated by gallery staff and invited curators. We are deeply committed to fostering curatorial practice i Canada; approximately 30% of our exhibitions since 1992 have been organized by Carleton students.

The primary focus of CUAG's exhibition program is contemporary art, particularly Canadian. Exhibitions have included solo presentations featuring the work of Ottawa-Gatineau artists, including, recently, Maura Doyle (2016), Meryl McMaster (2016), David Kaarsemaker (2014), Colin Muir Dorward (2013), Tony Fouhse (2013) and Cara Tierney (2012). Solo exhibitions featuring artists from across Canada have featured Gita Hashemi (2017), Patricia Reed (2016), Carol Sawyer (2016), Raymond Boisjoly (2014), Samuel Roy-Bois (2014), Rebecca Belmore (2013), Young and Giroux (2013), Erin Shirreff (2012), Nadia Myre (2011), Edward Burtynsky (2009), Pascal Grandmaison (2008), and Lynne Cohen (2006).

An important feature of the program is exhibitions of the work of contemporary Indigenous artists. Since 1992, CUAG has organized many exhibitions featuring works from its extensive collections of First Nations and Inuit art in addition to premiering new work by First Nations, Inuit and Metis artists. Recent highlights include Flying Still: Carl Beam, 1943-2005 (2005) which travelled to Iceland in 2006, Red Eye: First Nations Short Film and Video (2006), By the Book? Early Influences on Inuit Art (2006), Shuvinai Ashoona Drawings (2009), Frank Shebageget: Light Industry (2010), Nadia Myre: Symbology (2011), Rita Letendre: Themes and Variations (2011), Rebecca Belmore: What Is Said and What Is Done (2013), Raymond Boisjoly: Interlocutions (2014), and Meryl McMaster: Confluence, a nationally-touring exhibition (2016-18).

The gallery’s commitment to historical Canadian art is reflected in such exhibitions as the nationally-touring Pegi Nicol MacLeod: A Life in Art (2005), the retrospective A Pilgrim’s Progress: The Life and Art of Gerald Trottier (2006), and Invention and Revival: The Colour Drypoints of David Milne and John Hartman (2008). The print collection has also provided opportunities for small thematic shows drawing on its holdings of historical European art. Recent examples include Making the News in 18th-Century France (2012), Women’s Faces, Women’s Places: Life and Gender in 18th-Century France (2007), Status and Public Life: The Male Image in 18th-century France (2008), Eros and Endearment: The Look of Love in 18th-Century French Prints (2010), Making the News in 18th-Century France (2012) and Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France(2015).

CUAG Connects

In 2013 we launched CUAG Connects, an artist-led participatory public program, the goal of which is to foster collaborative co-learning in public. We build on art's interdisciplinary nature to create multiple entry points and spaces of exchange of reflection around the ideas raised by the artists who lead our programming. This program is comprised of a wide range of activities, including artist talks, workshops, film screenings, curatorial tours, panel discussions, and student-organized events, to name just a few. We launched our first Art + Sports summer camp in 2014, and are presenting five sold-out weeks of camp in 2017.


CUAG's exhibitions and publications have been recognized with numerous awards. In 2017, the Ontario Association of Art Galleries recognized Open Space Lab 01: Gita Hashemi, curated by Anna Khimasia, with the "Exhibition of the year" (budget under $20,000, monographic) award and Maura Doyle: the vessel, that with fugitive Articulation answer'd, how deep is your love, curated by Heather Anderson, with the "Innovation in a collection-based exhibition" award. In 2015, Art on a Green Line, curated by Johnny Alam, won "First Exhibition in a Public Gallery" from OAAG. That same year, CUAG and Oakville Galleries shared OAAG's "Innovation in a Collection-Based Exhibition" award for Samuel Roy-Bois: Not a new world, just an old trick, curated by Melanie O'Brian. OAAG curatorial writing awards have been received by cheyanne turions and Gabrielle Moser for their essays on Meryl McMaster (2017), Diana Nemiroff for her essay on Jocelyne Alloucherie (2013), Lilly Koltun for her essay on Justin Wonnacott (2011), and Sandra Dyck for her essays on Gerald Trottier (2009), Michele Provost (2010) and Shuvinai Ashoona (2012).

Recent book design awards include OAAG's "Art Publication of the Year" for Photomontage Between the Wars, 1918-1939 in 2013, an award that same year for Studio Blackwell's design of Jocelyne Alloucherie: Climats / Climates, grand prize in exhibition catalogue design for Pascal Grandmaison: Le grand jour / Double Take (co-published with the Art Gallery of Hamilton in 2009) from Concours Grafika 2010, and first prize in catalogue design (galleries with budgets of $750,000 and under) for Sanattiaqsimajut: Inuit Art from the Carleton University Art Gallery Collection from the American Alliance of Museums in 2009. In 1997 we extended our public profile by launching our first website, designed by Angelo Mingarelli; the site was redesigned by Patrick Côté in 2002 and 2009.

We are honoured to have successfully nominated Vera Frenkel (2006), Terry Ryan (2010), Brydon Smith (2014) and Robert Houle (2015) for Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.

Staff and governance

In 1992, CUAG was staffed by a full-time director/curator and a half-time administrative assistant. It has had four directors to date: Michael Bell (1992-2003); Sandra Dyck (acting, 2003-2005); Diana Nemiroff (2005-2012), and Sandra Dyck (2012-). Today the staff is comprised of a director, curator, collections/exhibition assistant, student and public programs coordinator and a half-time administrative assistant. These positions are supplemented by summer positions for an art education assistant, usually filled by a Carleton student, and a collections assistant. In addition, CUAG offers an annual research assistantship to a qualified graduate student and hires several students as part-time gallery attendants. The gallery offers opportunities for hands-on learning in a professional gallery environment through graduate and undergraduate practicum placements, and directed exhibition projects that form part of curatorial seminars in the art history and other departments.

CUAG operates under the University’s incorporation and charitable status. It has an active Advisory Board whose members are selected from the University and Ottawa-Gatineau communities. Its role is to advise the director on matters of policy and governance.