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AGO gets $7.5-million from Ottawa Add to ...

The Art Gallery of Ontario is beginning a rapid and ambitious expansion of its educational facilities thanks to a $7.5-million infusion of stimulus cash from the federal government.

Infrastructure Minister John Baird visited the gallery Monday morning to announce funds for the Weston Family Learning Centre. The AGO will match that money with $7.5-million from a landmark $12-million gift given by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation in 2008.

Rather than a physical expansion, the new 35,000-square-foot learning centre will be a substantial upgrade of gallery's existing educational spaces, located in the southwest corner of the AGO building, and will house new programs. There will be a staff expansion as well, allowing the AGO to host twice as many schoolchildren.

The programs for children, families, students, teachers and adults will be technologically advanced: the centre will be wireless, outfitted with video-conferencing capabilities, a new media production studio and a digital computer lab, and have the ability to reach students in their classrooms with interactive online features.

"Our goal and objective is to create jobs and to leave a lasting legacy of this challenging economic time, and putting funds toward the Art Gallery of Ontario will do a lot to increase the cultural mosaic of Toronto," Baird said, also thanking Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, "the money man," for making the funding possible.

"Those of us in the cultural sector like the money men, and we also like the building men," said AGO director and chief executive officer Matthew Teitelbaum.

In order to meet the federal government's stimulus deadlines, the project, which has been planned since 2008, is being accelerated. Hariri Pontarini Architects has been engaged to design the expansion, which will be green friendly and "light filled," with construction set to begin in April and expected to finish in 2011.

"We're thrilled. It's fast-tracking the project and we want to get it done. It's an integral part of the gallery," said Robin Young, a member of the board of trustees and chair of the AGO's education committee.

The AGO's learning program, founded in 1930 by famed Canadian artist Arthur Lismer, hosts more than 100,000 people each year.

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