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Ottawa Gallery Pilots Free Child Care at Art Openings

Earlier this year, a group of US-based artists called Home Affairs created a poster that read, “Does your Gallery, Museum, Conference Center or Festival provide Child Care?”

Starting tonight, Ottawa residents will be able to say yes to this question—at least provisionally.

From 6 to 9 p.m. this evening, the city’s Ottawa Art Gallery is piloting free child care at the opening reception for its summer exhibitions.

“My best friend is an artist and single mom, and her kid care schedule always determines whether or not she can go out and participate in the arts community,” says Stephanie Nadeau, the Ottawa Art Gallery’s curator of public engagement. “Her lived experience has really influenced me.”

It is the first time that the Ottawa Art Gallery has offered such a service during an art opening—and it’s a notable decision, as child care is still only very rarely offered by art galleries and museums in Canada and elsewhere.

Nadeau says that, beyond her personal social circle, she was also influenced by her experiences at Vancouver’s Gallery Gachet, a facility that emphasizes accessibility in its role as a support to marginalized populations. Nadeau vividly remembers attending an accessibility symposium there for which child care was provided.

“Atypical behaviours and child behaviours were welcome in the space,” Nadeau recalls. “It felt like it just opened up. When you go to a symposium, typically, it’s a place for hushed tones.”

Guidelines from the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon also provided a push towards the child care attempt when the gallery hosted a related event this past year.

“One of the things [the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon] was recommending was removing this serious barrier and making it accessible from a feminist perspective,” Nadeau says.

The child-care pilot will be available tonight on an availability basis, with the condition that the parents remain in the gallery for the duration of the the child care. The care will be provided by three gallery educators who already have had their first-aid training and background checks done for their regular work at the gallery.

There will be “squishy tiles, and a chalk wall, and artmaking activities and games” in the child-care space, Nadeau says. There is also no age limit on child care for this initial pilot—though things may change at future events depending on how the pilot goes.

“We’re taking things on a case by case basis,” Nadeau says.

This pilot will also influence how the Ottawa Art Gallery handles child care when it opens its new building in 2017. The new building is designed to be more accessible in many ways, and Nadeau wants regularly scheduled child care to be part of that accessibility.

“I think [child care] is really an accessibility commitment,” Nadeau says.

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