Have art... will travel

Date: Aug 14, 2023

On September 29, 2022, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the AFA Art Collection. As part of the celebrations, we are sharing snippets from the history of the collection. Learn more about the celebrations

By Gail Lint and Kristin Stoesz, Art Collections Consultants

From High Level in the North, to the Milk River in the South, and virtually everywhere in between, the AFA's Travelling Exhibition Program (TREX) works to bring Albertan art to all corners of the province, one crate at a time.

False start?

In the early days of the program (1972), the Department of Youth, Culture, and Recreation offered travelling exhibitions to Albertan communities with the intent of developing the visual arts in Alberta. The program ended around the same time the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta) began offering regional exhibitions.

The gallery initially circulated exhibitions to northern Alberta but later they expanded the program through the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG) to other parts of the province.  Facing budget cuts in the mid 1980s, the Edmonton Art Gallery terminated the travelling exhibition program in favour of its in-house programs.

Opportunity knocks

Image from 1985-1986 Alberta Art Foundation (AAF) Annual Report

Seeing an opportunity to resurrect the travelling exhibition program in 1980, the Alberta Art Foundation (AAF) developed a “Caravan Exhibition Program” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the province.

There were four exhibitions developed, one featuring works from the AAF's collection and three using works from other public and private collections. Exhibitions were showcased in refurbished truck trailer “galleries” and were circulated by the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. 

When the year of celebration finished, the AAF opted to continue circulating the exhibitions while developing new exhibitions using its art collection. 

Image from 1979-1980 AAF Annual Report

Rocky road

In 1987, due to budget and staff reductions, the AAF decided to contract the program out to galleries, allowing an expansion of the types of exhibitions offered to communities. 

The TREX Program format as it operates today started with the Edmonton Art Gallery creating exhibitions and coordinating the program, and the Prairie Art Gallery, the Muttart Gallery (later to become the Art Gallery of Calgary), and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery contracted to create exhibitions.

Unfortunately, the first attempts to coordinate were rocky. Extended periods between staff appointments, delays in exhibition development, and problems with the regional exchange of exhibitions left the program in limbo.

Image from 1987-1988 AAF Annual Report


With the TREX contract up for renewal in 1995, the newly formed Alberta Foundation for the Arts revamped the program and took on the role of provincial coordinator.

In 1997 a call for tenders was sent to all public and institutional galleries as well as all provincial visual arts organizations. The proposals were reviewed by the AFA’s Art Collections Committee with the assistance of an independent consultant. 

The Board approved four, three-year contracts to the Prairie Art Gallery in Zone 1, Harcourt House Art Centre in Zone 2, The Art Gallery of Calgary in Zone 3 and the Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery in Zone 4. 

Beginning in 1998, Metro Media (Metro Cinema) was contracted to offer a provincial touring program of Alberta media arts. This later developed into the Prairie Tales film series until the media arts program was transferred out of TREX in 2014.

Image from 1979-1980 AAF Annual Report

Modern TREX

In 2000, a call for tenders was again released to the public and the contract for TREX  Zone 1 was awarded to the Prairie Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie), Zone 2 was awarded to the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta), Zone 3 to the Art Gallery of Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary), and Zone 4 to the Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery (now the Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre). 

In January of 2002, the Art Gallery of Calgary requested that they be released from the balance of their contract, as its board felt that the program no longer fit into their gallery’s mandate. Based on the jury recommendations from the last call for tenders, the AFA offered the Alberta Society of Artists the opportunity to take over the balance of the contract for Zone 3.

These four regional organizations continue to coordinate the program to this day:

2016 TREX Art Exhibit Opening: Dreaming With My 'Great Mother'... from Region 2, Art Gallery of Alberta

50th Anniversary exhibitions

The AFA is pleased to have worked with its Travelling Exhibitions (TREX) partners to support the curation of special 50th Anniversary themed exhibitions, which will tour across Alberta until 2025.

  • TREX Southwest (Alberta Society of Artists) – “Montageries”
  • TREX Southeast (Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre) – “Party On!”

Find out whether an AFA Travelling Exhibition is in your community by connecting with our regional TREX providers

Looking forward

Having toured the province for decades in its many incarnations, TREX has become an integral part of the culture of the province. The AFA  continues to facilitate growth and change in TREX to respond to the needs of our communities.

We have art and will travel, who knows where we will go next!

Explore TREX