AGO’s 1st Thursdays: Why You Need to Go

For a more cultured alternative to the Thursday evening young professional (YP) bar scene, we hit the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) 1st Thursday event last week. Held on the first Thursday of each month, it is a not-to-miss affair for Toronto YPs – art lovers and party regulars alike. Much like a scaled down version of their Massive Party, the event offers an evening of art, entertainment, shameless networking, cocktails, culinary offerings and a chance to create art at the famed gallery. 


The event makes a great interactive date spot, evening on the town destination with the guys or ladies, or even an opportunity to entertain and bond with clients. The sold out event was refreshingly not too crowded and allowed for guests to actually take in the art along with the food and cocktails. Highlights included the one night only Out of the Vaults monthly pop-up exhibit (art work specifically selected from the AGO Collection on view only during 1st Thursdays), the Light My Fire photography and portrait exhibit (the first part of which is now on display until October 20th) and the bustling and breathtaking Galleria Italia pop-up bar. We caught up with Kelly McKinley, the AGO’s Executive Director of Public Programming, and she offered a little more insight to the 1st Thursday initiative and what we can expect from the events throughout the summer.


What was the inspiration behind 1st Thursdays?
People in their 20s and 30s weren’t choosing to come to the AGO. After surveying this audience, they told us they loved attending cultural events but the AGO wasn’t open at night when they wanted to come. The Gallery also wasn’t perceived as being cool or fun. Our inspiration was to fix this!

What, in your opinion, makes it such a great event for young professionals?
It’s a pretty straightforward recipe: access to art and artists, a chance to try your hand at making art, mix in some great performances, accessibly priced drinks and delicious food = magic!


What can we expect from 1st Thursday events throughout the summer?
The June 1st Thursday event will feature music performances by the all-female Van Halen cover band Vag Halen as well as Toronto-based songstress Light Fires.

The night will also feature a karaoke bar in Galleria Italia, performances by Toronto artists Bridget Moser, Brendan De Montigny and Nataliya Perkov, and a bike workshop put on by Cycle Toronto 

Other big things are in the works for the July and August 1st Thursdays.

Can you speak more about the current Light My Fire photography exhibit? Anything else interesting coming to the AGO over the summer?
Light My Fire is a photo exhibition exploring portraiture in all its forms drawn from the AGO’s holdings with many things that have never been shown before – it is a featured exhibition of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

The Patti Smith photography exhibition has been extended.

Lost in the Memory Palace by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller is absolutely captivating – a completely immersive sonic experience that is emotional stirring. A MUST see.

And then Ai Wei Wei opens August 17 – he is arguably the most important artist of our time.


Do you think that young people are still intimidated and apprehensive when it comes to art, despite recent moves to make it more accessible? How does 1st Thursdays facilitate this?
Young people look and act entirely at home in the AGO on 1st Thursdays. They are meeting friends, hanging out, diving into the art making and activities with gusto, attending the pop-up talks – they appear to be eating up the one-of-a-kind opportunities to connect and engage.

What was your favourite part of Thursday’s event?
The crowd! Seeing the museum in its true form as a place that serves its community.

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