3,000 artists. 17,000 works. Our first 50 years of sharing art.
The Canada Council Art Bank is turning 50 this year. Founded in 1972 with a mission to support Canada’s emerging visual arts community, the Art Bank now holds more than 17,000 works by over 3,000 Canadian artists. It is Canada’s largest contemporary art collection. But what makes it truly unique is the way it is shared with Canadians.
Fifty years ago, the Art Bank started with a simple but innovative idea: purchase the works of living Canadian visual artists and rent them to government departments. This model would serve both to support the Canadian visual arts community and to make art more accessible to more Canadians. With the support and collaboration from people and organizations across the arts sector and the government, the Art Bank grew in size, reach and impact, even inspiring countries like Australia to create their own national art banks.
Today, the Art Bank makes the works of more than 3,000 Canadian artists available to a broad audience across the country through three programs: corporate art rentals (which now include non-government clients), loans to museums and public outreach. It supports emerging artists and emergent art practices from Canada by purchasing new work, and it continually looks for ways in which its purchases can evolve the collection to represent what Canada is today, thereby offering a wide variety of voices and imaginaries.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Art Bank is inviting audiences to discover—and re-discover—its one-of-a-kind collection through the stories it contains. Each of the 17,000 pieces in the Art Bank collection tells a cultural, political or social story. Through paintings, photographs, prints, and more, the artists in the collection prompt us to ask questions like: Who are we? What is Canada? And what do we want it to be?
Questions like these are posed by Looking the World in the Face, a sweeping Art Bank retrospective including artwork by Indigenous and racialized artists. The exhibition, which opens on June 16 at the Canada Council’s Âjagemô Exhibition Space, officially kicks off the Art Bank’s 50th anniversary celebration.
The exhibition will be the first of many opportunities over the next few months to tell the stories of the Art Bank and its impact over the past five decades—and to set the stage for the next 50 years of sharing art.
Do you have an Art Bank story? Are you an artist whose art has been collected or a client of the art rental service? Have you had the opportunity to experience the collection in galleries or public spaces? Share your Art Bank stories using the hashtag #ArtBank50 on Instagram and Facebook, or email us directly.