Sloan, Sean O’Neill & 1st Thursdays

About a year and a half ago Sean O’Neill, Public Program Manager for the Art Gallery of Ontario, asked Jay Ferguson to DJ for the gallery’s 1st Thursday.  It was Jay’s introduction to the event. The atmosphere was rich. The simultaneous mixing of music, drinks and guests took their own shape filling the wood grained Italia Galleria. Jay could could tell there was something to this experiential concept. It was fun and utilized a great space.


It was no secret the AGO, like many other cultural organizations has been seeking the interest of X and Y Generations. On the night of the 20th 1st TThursday, organizer Sean O’Neill told us more about the success of this event.

Sean stepped out the chattering crowd ebbing past Katie Bethune-Leamen’s Glaciers and Icebergs Blobs ceramic installation. It was harmoniously arranged among the icy paintings of the Thompson Collection. It’s hard not to notice how Sean’s painterly pastel shirt, slightly tousled hair, and rosy cheeks compliment the dynamic environment perfectly.  

1st Thursdays is a model adapted from other international cultural programs such as Brooklyn Museum’s Thursday Evenings, London’s late night Thursdays, and Thursday Nights at SFMOMA. Over the past 20 months it has been Sean’s task to curate visual artists, DJs, and bands in a way that would draw in the jaded Gen Xers and cash strapped Yers, while leaving attendees with the desire to return for more.

June’s theme for 1st Thursday was True Patriot Love. “It felt like the right time to have a Canadian focus, plus we have a new Canadian curator who is making some interesting changes”. This month’s theme also serves as a precursor to Anishinaabe exhibition opening in July and Alex Colville exhibition opening in August.

“I approach 1stThursdays by starting with the artists. The thing that differentiates 1stThursdays from any other night at the museum events is that it really is about an art experience at its heart. We bring in local artists to make projects for the museum. We bring in local thinkers and personalities to give talks. We gather people to collectively create art. We are offering a meaningful experience around the art. For people coming to the AGO maybe for the first time. It’s a good way to be introduced to the gallery.’ 

1stThursdays are interactive experience between wall art, sculpture, poetry, art demonstrations, art making and music.

Past musicians have included Patti Smith, Tribe Called Red, Vag Halen, Emma McKenna, and Zeus. This June Sloan band members Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson and Andrew Scott, performed to a sold out venuejoining the eclectic AGO 1stThursday’s musical repertoire. A truly Canadian band, it was the perfect choice for this month’s event.


Sloan has produced an album almost annually over its 20 plus years of shaking things up in the Canadian music scene. Disruptors through and through, in 1992  they took a cross-country tour for a chance to play for DGC Records aka Geffen Records. Geffen was the label that signed Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Weezer.  Sloan’s performance in Vancouver was a success. Geffen signed Sloan, pulling the small Halifax band from its remote Eastern roots to the forefront of the Canadian music scene. 

There is more to this band than meets the ear. The members of Sloan are philanthropists and genuine do-it-yourselfers. With ambition to bring more of the geographically isolated East Coast music scene to the forefront, Sloan started Murder Records with some of the money they received from their own music contracts. “We started our own record label in order to put out other bands [from Halifax] that we really liked.”It eventually became a means for them to produce their own albums with full creative control. “If you want something done right then do it yourself”, Ferguson says.

Andrew Scott, lead drummer, studied fine art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). Chris Murphy, who also attended NSCAD, and Jay Ferguson are both self-proclaimed graphic design nerds.  “We constantly look through books and read about designers.”It’s this all-round creative interest that allows them to transcend their musical style through to their album art and videos. Take their limited edition live bootleg albums for example. They only produce 500 of these colourful vinyl gems. They use a local printer to produce the jackets. “We usually put the albums together in my living room. We use a local printer to help make the jackets with deluxe intricate printing”, Jay shares. “It’s a fun and creative outlet.  We live in our own world and we do what we like in order to stay happy.”  

How does one acquire a bootleg record? They can only be purchased on their online store. Follow their Twitter account for release dates. 


As 10 PM began to approach, Sloan fans began to congregate in and around the Walker Court choosing their best vantage point for the performance. Patrons excitedly discussed their favourite albums and expressed their wishes for which songs they hoped to hear.  Others speculated that everything would new in anticipation of Sloan’s new album release expected this September.  When Sloan took the stage all focus turned to enjoying the moment and the music. There was no moshing in this intimate setting. Instead the audience swayed peacefully and contently. There was a humble down-to-earth air of mutual respect between band and fans. It was all very civil and well-mannered. It was Canadian.

As the 20th 1stThursday came to a close, we recalled Sean’s words.

“Art doesn’t have to be intimidating. Art can be fun. Art can be about your own reaction to it. 1st Thursday is about allowing space for people to engage with the museum in whatever way makes sense for them.”

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