Owens Art Gallery receives Dr. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell Literacy Award 

12 Jun 2024
The award recognizes the gallery’s commitment to community literacy and lifelong learning 

The Owens Art Gallery received the Dr. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell Literacy Award in the category of Community Literacy Program. This award is given by the Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick to honour outstanding contributions to literacy and lifelong learning.

Owens Art Gallery Director and Curator Emily Falvey says this award validates the quality of programs her team has dedicated themselves to for a long time.

“Often when we speak about literacy and an art gallery, people don’t necessarily see the connection,” says Falvey. “It's not just that we engage in literacy work like many museums and art galleries, we do it so well that the Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick has recognized us with an award. Having an external body specialized in literacy commend us is nothing but good in terms of reinforcing the program and potentially bringing more resources for growth.” 

The Owens Art Gallery offers a diverse range of education and outreach programs for children, youth, adults, and more. The gallery has developed a community literacy program aimed at removing barriers to art and enhancing visual, museum, and cultural literacy. These programs are based on the idea that learning is more effective when you feel a sense of belonging. In 2023–2024, the gallery’s programs reached 3,405 people, including 2,036 children and youth.  

The Owens Art Gallery team, including Lucy MacDonald, Curator of Education and Community Outreach and part-time lecturer and Rachel Thornton, Curator of Digital Engagement, work to create education and community outreach components for the gallery’s programming.  

“It’s such an honour for the Owens to receive the Dr. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell Literacy Award,” says MacDonald. “It recognizes the important, but perhaps unexpected, work that museums do in fostering literacy, particularly museum and visual literacies.” 
The staff have developed a variety of programs, including school activities, projects for schoolchildren, seniors, college, and community initiatives. These programs emphasize visual and museum literacy within the context of social space and community building.  

Some of the programs that contributed to this award include Maker Maker and Make Something Sundays.  

“Our monthly Make Something Sunday family program is a key example of museum literacy at work at the Owens,” says MacDonald. “It brings children and their grownups together to experiment with artmaking within the space of the gallery. During a visit, a family might collaborate on an art project or work side-by-side, take time to visit the exhibitions, read labels together, puzzle over artworks, browse the Little Library of books on creativity for young readers, connect with other families, all the while developing confidence and comfort in the space.” 

The Owens is dedicated to identifying and reducing barriers to access. This award underscores the importance of art and cultural access in the discussion of literacy. 

“I’m proud of the way our programs reach all ages and work together to build community,” says MacDonald. “In our programs for families, schools, university students, adults, and seniors, art becomes a catalyst for connection and crucially for building a sense of belonging. Whether exploring creative process or taking time to look slowly and deeply at a work of art, we are building skills that resonate beyond the walls of the museum. We are practicing observation, thinking critically, finding connections, taking multiple perspectives, and nurturing empathy.” 

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