History of Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts 1996-2011

By: Simone Rojas-Pick

Propeller Center for the Visual Arts was established in Toronto, August 1996, by a group of Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) students. Propeller was created in order to organize young and emerging Contemporary Canadian artists into a community, offering them with a professional venue to exhibit and sell their works, in order to provide them the necessary support in the beginning of their careers. 

At the time many recent art grads didn’t have many options for getting their work out there. Most established galleries were not readily showing works by emerging artists. Propeller’s founding mandate: “to support innovative and ambitious artists of diverse medias and approaches, and giving them full curatorial control over their own exhibitions”, was cultivated in order to offer young artists more agency over their works, allowing them advance their careers without necessarily relying mainstream galleries.  

96 SPADINA AVENUE #303 Darling Building
96 SPADINA AVENUE #303 Darling Building

The gallery established itself as a membership-based organization, organized as a partnership where each member would own equal share, in order to create a strong sense of community among its artists. The membership structure was a strong force behind assuring that the needs of its artists were being appropriately met. 

The newly formed Propeller Gallery, was originally located in Suite 303 at 96 Spadina Avenue. The original 1200 square foot venue was renovated and transformed by the membership, and separated by movable gallery walls, which could accommodate two concurrent solo or group exhibitions.

In 2001, after 5 years at 96 Spadina, Propeller relocated to 984 Queen Street West. The new location brought considerable attention and recognition to the gallery. At the time, many other galleries were migrating to Queen West, creating a strong cultural identity in the burgeoning area. Notably Propeller was one of the early gallery’s that found itself laying its roots on Queen Street West; other established galleries like: Stephen Bulger, Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, Angell Gallery, Deleon White, Spin Gallery, Loop, and Mercer Union. 

By 2007, the area had transformed itself into an epicenter of trendy boutiques, cafes, and galleries. The aptly named West Queen West Gallery District (Queen Street West, between Bathurst and Gladstone), flourished in 2006, after the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) took up residence at 952 Queen Street West, and The Gladstone Hotel opened its doors as the first Art Boutique Hotel. As the area quickly began to gentrify, and commercial rent increased, many other artist-run galleries, such as Mercer Union, Loop, and *New* Gallery, have had to relocate. In 2011 Propeller proudly remains as the last artist-run gallery in the West Queen West Gallery District.

Over the last 15 years Propeller has held on steadfast to it’s roots and continues to foster it’s mission to support emerging artists. The gallery actively assists its artist with technical support and promotional resources. Propeller is more than just a gallery space: it is also a supportive and creative community where artists discuss concepts, exchange information and experiences, and generate new ideas. Propeller seeks to develop mutually empowering relationships between artists, and the community.

May 1996 Show Card

May of 1996, a group of young emerging artists who recently graduated from OCAD, assembled together to organize an exhibition of their paintings, in the Darling Building at 96 Spadina. It was from this exhibition that artists rallied to establish the gallery. 

Aug 1996

Propeller #1, was the first official exhibition held at the newly established Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts, featuring works by its members.

In 2001 Propeller relocated to the up and coming West Queen West Gallery District.

Propeller is still standing strong after 15 years, as the last remaining artist-run centre in the West Queen West Gallery District.

Queen Street West entrance – Salon 4, January 2010.

New York Times Article 2007

Go West Young Hipsters”, declares the New York Times. By 2007 the newly named West Queen West Gallery District (Queen Street West, between Bathurst and Gladstone), was developing into an epicenter for galleries, boutiques and cafes. 

(Source: Stuart Emmrich, “Day Out in Toronto”, New York Times, Sunday, September 2, 2007)

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