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Stephan Jost, Michael and Sonja Koerner Director, and CEO, of the AGO, reflects on a challenging, illuminating and artful year in a message to close out 2020. 

Dismantle 2

Recently acquired, Denyse Thomasos. Dismantle #2, 1998. Acrylic on canvas, Overall: 160 × 183 × 4.1 cm. Gift of Richard and Donna Ivey, 2019. Courtesy of the Denyse Thomasos Estate and Olga Korper Gallery. 2019/2432

Let’s be honest, 2020 has been a difficult year for many. Yet, during this time, I am also thankful for things both great and small.

We need to thank all the people who are on the front line of this pandemic. From healthcare providers to the cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart, to the AGO security staff who keep the collections safe – so many people make our community work. This summer, we gave 28,000 frontline workers a free Annual Pass to the AGO.  Now, they too, can have a break and recharge by enjoying extraordinary works of art in one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Why did we give away so many Annual Passes? Because when you are grateful, saying “thank you” is important.

There is wisdom in the people who are demanding that the AGO be more inclusive and diverse on all fronts. The issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement have been particularly poignant and have served as a catalyst for change. Listening to and reflecting on critique can result in fresh ideas and truly positive outcomes. Wonderful examples include the wide range of artists and thinkers showcased on and establishing a new department, Art of Global Africa and the Diaspora. Who is driving these important changes? A remarkable and diverse group of AGO staff and volunteers who are working together to guide how the AGO moves forward. Our goal is to truly reflect and include all the people who make Toronto their home.

Part of resilience is the ability to be flexible. Our school programs team pivoted from hosting tours in the Gallery to educating students online. The proposition is simple: every day we offer free live school programs about art and wellness to students across Ontario. Our team has found a way to fill an important need – it turns out that teachers and parents want their children to learn about wonderful works of art during a pandemic. In just six weeks, more than 120,000 kids have participated in a live artful conversation with an AGO educator! I cannot point to any more concrete evidence that art and culture are not marginal in a crisis but core – perhaps this is a sign that we are drawn to the things that are most important to us during times of need. 

This year many, many people have been deeply generous with their time and resources. 2020 has impacted people differently. Some have suffered – and I hope that the AGO can be a place of solace – while others are doing well. It is humbling that so many people have chosen to strengthen their commitment to the AGO and ensure that art can be part of all of our lives. I am grateful that we can be a safe space, a place of joy and welcome to all of you.

Finally, I am grateful for the AGO staff. They are truly a resilient group of individuals. And I have been impressed by their sense of purpose, their connection to each other and their ability to adapt.

It is my sincere hope that you stay safe during this holiday season.


Stephan Jost 

AGO Director and CEO

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