Art Gallery of Alberta

Beauty’s Engaged: A closer look at “Who Inspires You” in Beauty’s Awakening


Written by Lynda Vang

Inspiration strikes at any moment, and it is hard not to feel inspired while viewing Beauty’s Awakening: Drawings by the Pre-Raphaelites and Their Contemporaries from the Lanigan Collection, an exhibition featuring more than 120 drawings by the Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries. If you’ve visited the Beauty’s Awakening exhibition, you’ll have noticed a set-up of easels, pencils and comfortable seats that invite guests to get creative and reflect on the question, “Who Inspires You?”

“Who Inspires You?” is one of the interactive projects incorporated into our current exhibitions. We took a moment to talk to AGA’s Exhibitions Experience and Interpretation Coordinator Carolyn Jervis about interpretive projects in general and “Who Inspires You?” in particular.

What is an interpretive project, and what goes into creating one?

Interpretive projects are designed to provide opportunities for visitors to contribute and respond to an exhibition in some way. When I plan an interpretive project, I’m always thinking about what the relatable parts of an exhibition are: how do the themes and artworks connect to our lives? My goal with the projects is to create something that facilitates visitor involvement in the exhibition, and invites people to think about the artwork around them from a different angle.


How do you address the challenge of changing the audience from passive viewers to active participants?

Our visitors love being involved, and I’m so grateful for their thoughtful and enthusiastic participation! I don’t think people want to be passive at an art gallery—they want to be a part of what we do. Also, our visitors are diverse, and they aren’t always looking for the same kind of experience. Interpretive projects give people another option for engaging with art and forming their own thoughts and feelings about art when they are choosing what they want from their AGA experience.


The interpretive project currently in Beauty’s Awakening asks the audience, “Who Inspires You?” Where did the idea for this come from?

The Beauty’s Awakening exhibition makes clear that the featured Victorian artists often looked to friends and family members, or characters from mythological, literary or religious sources, for inspiration. I think this is a sentiment that we all can relate to: we all have heroes and aspirational figures that inform how we live our lives, and some that inspire our creative pursuits. With that in mind, we have invited visitors to draw the people who inspire them, and hang their drawings on the gallery wall.


What do you hope people take away from engaging with “Who Inspires You?”

I hope people walk away with a sense of accomplishment, and that they’ve honoured an important person in their life. I also hope people walk away proud of their amazing drawings. We have been privileged to go through almost 1,500 sheets of paper because visitors have been so keen to draw. It doesn’t matter who you are, and whether you have years of training or none at all: you can draw something amazing, and we want to celebrate what you’ve made. Engagement with the project doesn’t have to mean drawing, either. There are many visitors who have taken the time to look through all the drawings, and that’s amazing too. I hope they are as inspired by their peers as I am.


What is your favourite work in the Beauty’s Awakening exhibition? Why?

I’ve been really inspired to learn about Evelyn de Morgan, who in addition to being a great artist of the Victorian era, was also a Suffragette. She used her artwork to show the plight of women and the challenges they faced in her time, as well as their strength. In an exhibition full of images of women, I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the ranges of representations, and perhaps the influence of a Victorian artist’s gender on how they depict women.

Be sure to visit Beauty’s Awakening and pay tribute to the inspiration in your life at “Who Inspires You?” before the exhibition closes November 13.


Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and presented as a part of the NGC@AGA exhibition series. Presented at your AGA by Simons.