Montreal’s Oboro masks as much as make artwork extra accessible to all

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The Plateau-Mont-Royal artist-run centre is asking visitors to wear masks, making it one of the few public spaces in the city to have such a policy.

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Sep 08, 2022  •  September 8, 2022  •  3 minute read  •  The Oboro exhibition space's mask policy is The Oboro exhibition space’s mask policy is “an unobtrusive way to ensure maximum safety for everyone,” says artistic director Tamar Tembeck, alongside a piece from Sarabeth Triviño’s Mapu: Sacred Land. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

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There’s a sign at the entrance to Oboro, a Montreal artist-run centre and exhibition space, that reads: “Ici on continue à porter le masque.”

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The Plateau-Mont-Royal venue will ask visitors to mask up for its first show of the fall season, which opens Saturday, making it one of the few public spaces in the city to do so. But it’s not some new decision in response to the lack of public health measures surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic; the centre is simply maintaining the requirements it had in place before Premier François Legault lifted all such measures in the spring.

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“It’s a continuation of our policy,” said Tamar Tembeck, Oboro’s artistic director. “We just decided not to stop our mask policy. We maintained the suggestion to wear masks beyond the time it was imposed by the government.

“As a collective of workers, we agreed on what we were most comfortable with among ourselves, then we thought about what makes sense in terms of our interactions with the public or having the public come into our space. It’s an unobtrusive way to ensure maximum safety for everyone.”

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At the heart of the decision is a sense of solidarity with the immunocompromised, as part of a broader commitment to making the space truly accessible to as many communities as possible. A statement to that effect may soon be added to the signage at Oboro’s entrance.

Tembeck admits that visitors are sometimes perplexed by the initiative, given the lack of such guidelines in the rest of the province.

“It’s part of an attempt to minimize barriers,” she explained. “They’re not physical in this case, but there are other types of barriers to access.”

Oboro is open — and regretful — about the fact that its third-floor location, accessible only by a stairway, limits access to people with reduced mobility. And while Tembeck admits there is “a lot of work to be done on that front,” the centre tries to be conscious in addressing and removing barriers to other kinds of access where it can.

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“One thing we did a few years ago is we developed a document that gives detailed information about accessing the space and the resources available in order to access our spaces, and we put it online,” she said. “The idea is to provide as much information as possible ahead of time, so a visitor can anticipate how they will experience our space physically, and what kind of resources they can count on.”

Before Oboro paused its activities for summer, visitors were surprised but generally open to the request to wear a mask. Sometimes, people would not see the sign upon entering but would notice that staff and other patrons were wearing masks, and ask if they should be too. The gallery provides masks to those who need them.

“We say, ‘We’ve decided to continue wearing masks here,’ ” Tembeck noted. “So in general, people just put a mask on. I personally haven’t encountered any resistance. I think a lot has to do with how it’s presented. It’s an invitation to put a mask on. If we furnish it, it’s not so difficult. Then they see the majority that is present is also wearing a mask, so it feels natural to do so.”

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She’s curious to see how people respond months later, as the city embarks on its rentrée culturelle. Tembeck still wears a mask on public transit and when visiting museums, galleries and other public spaces in the city, where no such requirements are in place. She doesn’t fault other institutions for not having a mask policy, but encourages them to consider it.

“The burden shouldn’t be placed on the people who need the protection the most,” she said. “We can all do a lot of work to make our spaces more accessible and inclusive.”


Oboro presents the double exhibition of Caroline Gagné’s Clairières and Sarabeth Triviño’s Mapu: Sacred Land, Sept. 10 to Oct. 15. The vernissage is Saturday, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m. Oboro is located at 4001 Berri St., Suite 301. For more information, visit

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