Sunday, August 05, 2007

AGO = Ripoff Central

Yesterday my new roommate and I headed down to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I hadn't been to the AGO in years. We rode the subway down from Finch Subway Station to Yonge and Dundas and then walked over to the AGO at Dundas and McCaul Streets.

We entered the Art Gallery and walked up a long ramp to the pay the admission. Since I am member of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) I have free admission. My roommate paid fifteen dollars.

Before the we paid admission though, we were warned that most of the permanent collection, with the exception of about three paintings, was not available to be seen as the gallery was undergoing extensive renovations. I, at the time, thought no problem because the gallery seemed to be charging regular admission prices anyway.

We were in and out of the Art Gallery of Ontario in less than forty five minutes! WHAT A RIPOFF! There were perhaps five galleries of art brought into the gallery and three paintings from the permanent gallery shown. The three paintings from the permanent gallery were only displayed in the second floor hallway area and not even in a gallery unto themselves.

Add to this that really only the second floor of the gallery was worth viewing. Even then some of the space on the second floor was needlessly taken up by one of the two gift shops. Why are there two gift shops when more than three quarters of your building is closed for renovations?

The Art Gallery of Ontario has three floors. The basement was totally inaccessible due to renovations. The main floor had a small children's art gallery area, a large gift shop, architectural displays of the new Art Gallery of Ontario building, and a self portrait display where people from around the world submitted self drawn self portraits. The second floor had five galleries of works brought into the gallery from other galleries from around the world.

This hardly seems to be worth the fifteen dollars for the price of admission. For twenty American one can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim and see Picasso and Renoir. The AGO? Not one Canadian Group of Seven picture could be seen because these paintings were buried someplace due to renovations.

If a gallery is going to undergo renovations, admission must be adjusted in order to match what can be seen. If most of your permanent collection is not there, please lower your price of admission. If the AGO did this and the admission for one adult at this time was fifteen dollars, I'd hate to see what the real price of admission is when the whole permanent collection is. This idea of modifying the price of admission during renovations only makes sense as customers will at least appreciate not leaving feeling ripped off and, thus, are more likely to return in the future once the renovations are completed. As of now, I doubt whether I will be returning to the AGO for quite some time as this visit left a poor taste in my mouth. I was left apologizing for the high admission price and poor quality of a Toronto Art Institution. It really seemed that the only thing the AGO was interested in was getting our money so they could finish the overpriced Frank Gehry designed renovation of their beloved building. Why else would there be a need for two relatively large gift shops and a high admission price in comparison of what gallery space there was? Bottom line, if I wanted to be ripped off, I would have done it by buying designer coffee from Starbucks.

Meanwhile, the Toronto tourist industry is wondering why the number tourists is dwindling. Perhaps part of the problem is not only Toronto's continuing woes in the crime, litter and municipal taxation, but also with attractions. If attractions like the AGO leave a poor impression on tourists, then why would tourists return? Lets also note that the ROM, which has been undergoing renovations for the Michael Lee Chin Crystal expansion, is still not fully completed yet. Sure the ROM's physical building is finished, but the inerts of galleries and other amenities won't be finished until well into 2009. This is despite the renovations to the ROM beginning in 2004. So apparenlty it takes five years to start, complete construction and move all the collections in. No wonder tourists are not coming to Toronto as much, two of our major museums that people flock to are under renovation and one, the AGO, rips people off in terms of value for money. Add to the fact that some members of the tourist industry are calling Toronto boring and lacking pizzazz in major newspapers like the Toronto Star, it is no wonder that tourism is suffering.

More festivals, restoring the reputation of "Toronto the clean", and other such cosmetic changes won't help if the major backbones or draws of tourism appear uninviting. This is proven with one question: "Why would I want to come to visit your city if I'm going to leave feeling ripped off and underappreciated?" I would like to ask the very similar question to the AGO after yesterday's visit: "Why should I come back if I'm leaving here feeling ripped off and underappreciated?"

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