Established in 1972, Plug In was created as a not-for-profit exhibition space directed by a board of practicing artists. It began as one of the first (and few) organizations on the prairies to focus exclusively on contemporary art, and has retained this model while expanding its vision in significant ways. Over the past thirty years Plug In has grown to serve local, national, and international audiences with a variety of programs and activities. The organization speaks to multiple communities who—while diverse in character—share an interest in contemporary art and the analysis of contemporary culture.
Since its inception Plug In has played a central role in the creation and growth of a living culture in Manitoba, facilitating a mutually beneficial dialogue between art and its wider social context. In addition to its fundamental role as a centre for the exhibition and dissemination of art, Plug In has nurtured the careers of numerous artists, curators, critics, and arts administrators. To address other community needs, Plug In has also been an incubator for arts groups in the province such as Video Pool and MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art).
In the late 90’s, after twenty-five years of operation as an artist-run-centre, Plug In began to re-envision its role in local, national, and international art circles. Having arrived at a position of notable critical acclaim for its exhibitions and publications program, Plug In sought to have these programs matter in a “larger” way. To reach this goal and elevate the organization’s profile, Plug In launched three initiatives to attract larger audiences and expand the reach of our programming: the national and international circulation of exhibitions; the development of a website and e-commerce capabilities; and the creation of an audience development initiative. These changes marked Plug In’s transition from an artist-run-centre to something that resembled both a gallery and a museum, yet was neither – an interim phase during which a hybrid has taken form.
A survey of “Institute of Contemporary Art” models in the UK and the US has confirmed that Plug In’s mission, priorities and activities fit most comfortably within the ICA model. And while this model is itself a relatively fluid one, for our purposes this ICA distinction means: the generation of a thoroughly researched mix of exhibitions offering multiple access points to contemporary art and ideas; insightful interpretation through publications, programs and events; and the creation of facilities and an environment for interaction among artists, art and audiences.