National Gallery of Canada unveils new brand image rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing and being

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National Gallery of Canada unveils new brand image rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing and being
The National Gallery of Canada’s new visual identity is centred on a word that emerged from a conversation with Algonquin Elders from the unceded territory upon which the Gallery is located.

OTTAWA.- Inviting, alive, open, dimensional—words that define the new core principles of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) and underpin its new brand image, publicly unveiled today. Comprised of a new digitally animated logo and new corporate colours, the national museum’s new visual identity reflects the strategic behavioural changes that the Gallery has set out to embody and that are integral to its mission.

The National Gallery of Canada’s new visual identity is centred on a word that emerged from a conversation with Algonquin Elders from the unceded territory upon which the Gallery is located.

“It was crucial for us to develop a new brand rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing and being,” said Dr. Sasha Suda, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. “Our new visual identity is inspired by the Anishinaabemowin word Ankosé, which means Everything is connected. This powerful word invites us to find hope and joy in difference and encourages us to seek out the perspectives and knowledge of those who are not around our table. It moves us from a Western worldview of rigid geometry, to a circle that draws on Indigenous teachings. Our new brand anchors the Gallery’s core values while reinforcing our desire to serve all Canadians equally.”

At the invitation of the Gallery, the Elders acted as an advisory committee and guided the Gallery through the process of developing its first Strategic Plan, which was launched last month. The board included Elder Annie Smith St. Georges and Elder Albert Dumont, a poet, storyteller, speaker, and an Algonquin traditional teacher, both members of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, Maniwaki, Quebec; Elder Gracie Ratt, an Anishinaabe cultural educator and artisan from the community of Kitiganik (Lac-Rapide/Lac-Barrière); and Elder Simon Brascoupé, Anishinabeg/Haudenausanee—Bear Clan, also a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, Maniwaki, Quebec, and Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University and Trent University.

Research and development

The rebrand is the culmination of four months of research, consultation, deep thinking, and design under the leadership of Rosemary Thompson, NGC’s Vice President of Corporate/Public Affairs and Marketing, whose team worked with AREA 17, an agency by founding partner Canadian Kemp Attwood, with staff in Brooklyn, NY, and Paris, France.

“We wanted a new visual identity that would ground the institution forever to the land, water and sky, to the beauty of the visual arts and to each other,” said Rosemary Thompson, Vice President, Corporate/Public Affairs and Marketing at the National Gallery of Canada. “When we started this project, it was important to walk through the Gallery to find a circle because it is such an important symbol for Indigenous Peoples. When you walk into the Scotiabank Great Hall you notice the floor is circular, and if you look up and out at the sky, you see the incredible glass mosaic that Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie designed, and you know this place is the heart of the Gallery. AREA 17’s creative leadership listened, and created something dynamic, ever-changing, inspired by the circle, the drum, beadwork, the northern lights, the Gallery’s remarkable art and architecture, and the more than 300 interviews that we did.”

“Water connects all of us. The oxygen brought forth in the wind connects us. We are connected to the dependency of all things brought forth by sacred Mother Earth… Whenever we see a sunrise, we see the greatest of masterpieces … and in the mountains and in the trees, we see sculptures—grand sculptures that inspire our artists. Always appreciate the power of the beauty of our relations, all of our relations; how beautiful this world is. Ankosé—Everything is connected,” says Elder Albert Dumont—poet, storyteller, speaker, and an Algonquin traditional teacher and member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, Maniwaki, Quebec—in a poem he wrote for the Gallery to illustrate the meaning of Ankosé. Elder Dumont narrates this poem in this video .

“As a Canadian myself, this has been a deeply humbling relationship. From working with Indigenous Elders to conversations with the National Gallery of Canada’s Head of Transformation and Inclusion, Angela Cassie, our collaboration has been so much more than a rebrand. The new brand is a call to action to recognize the limitless connections that exist beyond the frame of the artwork, the museum, the physical building, the canon, and the central narrative. To see that everything is connected. With the principles, identity, and language as a foundation, we look forward as the National Gallery of Canada lives into its purpose through behaviour that drives positive change,” said Kemp Attwood, Founding Partner and CCO at AREA 17.

This video produced by AREA 17 shows the new branding and animated logo.

Over a period of several weeks, the Gallery conducted internal and external surveys. First with its staff and management, then with members of the Gallery, leaders of other museums and cultural organizations in Canada, tourism partners, and the public. Throughout this phase, consultations were also held with Elders and Knowledge Keepers of the Algonquin Nation, Strategic Consultants NOBL and Diversity Consultants Elevate—both of which assisted the Gallery in developing its Strategic Plan. In addition, the Gallery conducted focus groups with young Indigenous artists and artists from diverse backgrounds. In all, more than 300 people contributed to this research process on its public image, which enabled the Gallery to clearly identify perceptions of the national museum institution.

Strategic changes

During its consultation and reflection phases, the Gallery identified three strategic behavioural changes that are part of its new brand and that it has already begun to implement:

Commitment to decolonization. From a brand perspective, committing to decolonization means the Gallery will recognize the land, sky and water around us, and really look at what that means. This brings us back to Ankosé, and this understanding that everything is connected. It’s about moving from a Western perspective, embodied for so long, to Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The National Gallery of Canada will continue to work with Indigenous Peoples to deepen its understanding of what decolonization and reconciliation really mean.

Rethinking the way its curators and educators tell the stories behind the art, thinking beyond the frame. It’s about telling the stories of the past in a new way—bringing in diverse voices and perspectives, and providing a context around the art to really amplify new voices and decentre the narrative. The Gallery put this strategy into action by taking a groundbreaking curatorial approach to its exhibition Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Creativity and Competition, incorporating the perspectives of Indigenous and Black curators and art historians, and by incorporating contemporary artworks by Indigenous and Black artists from the national collection.

Activating community belonging. During the consultation and research phase, the Gallery heard many times that it was considered to be elite and a glass fortress. A place to which people are not always drawn, or a place where they cannot identify themselves with. To correct this, the Gallery is working to make people feel more welcome in its space. This particular change is about inviting people into its building, and to create a sense of belonging. It means the Gallery will work harder to reach out into the community; to create memorable, dynamic experiences and memories for its visitors and staff.

From square to circle

The new logo is animated and moves from a square to a circle through nine (9) secondary symbols that were created through the shapes of the mother brand. As art is ever evolving, so too is the National Gallery of Canada’s new visual identity.

On the Gallery’s website and digital platforms, the logo will come to life by digitally animating itself. To many viewers the animation is like a kaleidoscope, ever-changing and symbolizing a new dynamism at the Gallery. The animation is designed to show an organization that is reaching out to the world, and also inviting people inside the Gallery to create a sense of belonging.

The typeface (font) adopted for the National Gallery of Canada’s visual identity is Founders Grotesk. Universal and contemporary, it is both familiar and unique, geometric yet circular. It is light and assertive without needing to be bold or heavy.

From red to a palette of colours

The red that has been associated with the National Gallery of Canada for more than three decades has been replaced by a colour palette reminiscent of the northern lights. To reflect diversity and the notion of 'limitlessness', colour pairing and gradients bring the logo to life. The concept of the colour wheel brings back to the metaphor of the circle and that everything is connected.

Depending on the context in which the logo is used—on the website, posters/flyers/advertisements, promoting an exhibition or activity on social media, etc.—the colour selection corresponds to the dominant colour of the artwork concerned. For example, if the main colour is blue in a painting by Alex Colville, aqua and purple would be the colours to match.

Colour gradations symbolize new voices and perspectives that join old ones and are being amplified. The gradient also brings dimension to the simple shapes of the logo, like light through a kaleidoscope.

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