An Open Letter: Dear Armen Art Gallery…

 “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. Granted, an oft-repeated phrase, but the words ring true nonetheless

Here’s another cliché: “Everything changes”. Used frequently, but paused to consider rarely.  We all exist and bear witness to every passing year; our memories become branded with happiness, or pain, or sometimes both.  “Everything changes” comforts us and allows us a sense of familiarity within its transient nature. 


Dear Armen Art Gallery,

Please indulge me as I pause and consider in a deliberate moment of musing about how “everything changes”.

If we, as human beings, were to be rounded up and posed the identical question of what makes us happy, I’d presume the collected responses would share some common themes and ideas. Family can often make us happy; feeling loved and appreciated. A specific memory can induce happiness. The scent of a favourite cologne. Perhaps saluting the sunset each day as it departs from the warm skies.  Or the booming cadence of a preferred afternoon radio show host and, more so, the comfort in knowing the dependable voice will always be there.  And finally, knowing that a place like Armen Art Gallery exists.

As individuals in the pursuit of happiness, we indulge in all of these truths, in all of these moments. We feel connected to a certain reality, and then one day… “everything changes”.

Loved ones pass away. The fragrance company decides to discontinue the only scent you’ve ever pledged allegiance to.  Ambitiously developed condominiums arrive and your balcony vantage point featuring blushed crimson skies is no more. The radio show host you had grown dependent on to shepherd you through the afternoon moves to the west coast. And finally, Armen Art Gallery closes its doors after 38 years.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”


Dear Armen Art Gallery,

For as long as I can remember, you’ve always been there. Sitting comfortably at 16 Wellesley St, allowing the free theatre of city life to use you as one of its countless backdrops.

You’ve always been a sort of compass guiding my narrative as a Torontonian. A familiar place in the city that I would point towards and point out to whomever I would happen to be marching on pavements with that day. You were a microcosm of all that I loved about Toronto, about Canada. An Art Gallery near the heart of the city. Owned and operated by a proud Armenian artist, showcasing Native Canadian Art. A man’s passion from “back home” manifesting itself in his new home; shedding light on his adopted country’s inhabitants history and culture. A proud enthusiast well before our easy on the eyes Prime Minister made supporting and advocating Aboriginal Rights and culture the sexy thing to do.

You helped strengthen my self-imposed “I’m so urbane” narrative as I grew increasingly comfortable navigating the city on my own. More than once, you helped me impress first date subscribers- “Yeah the restaurant is right by Wellesely station… by the way did I ever tell you my buddy’s father has an art gallery around the corner?”.  Well before first dates and solo subway travels, you were part of the backdrop of my childhood- quietly gracing the back of framed photographs and works of art with the silver and blue decal of Armen Art Gallery.  Reminding me 

that Armen Art Gallery had a relationship with my family before the very idea of me was conceived.

Fast forward many, many year and that same iconic signature, the Armen Art Gallery decal, can be found behind framed photographs and paintings hung on the walls of my own personal home. Your youngest heir and I have a close relationship- just like your namesake Armen and my father did. I mention this all not to convey personal emotion, but to attempt an appreciation for the beauty of human connections and the ongoing circle of life that is arresting enough to warrant its own frame and blue and silver decal

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Perhaps I’m so sad that you’re leaving because it’s proof of changing times. No more making small talk and remembering first names. No more dialogue with shop keepers and the luxury of having a vast landscape of topics to share. It’s no longer about custom art, gained expertise and the bricks and mortar reality.  It’s all about Ikea frames and quick, ready to order websites. Glossy pictures of the Tour Eiffel printed in China.


Dear Armen Art Gallery,

“Everything changes”

You opened your doors when Toronto was nearly unrecognizable from the city it has blossomed into today.  From your downtown perch you witnessed cranes building towers, skin hues darkening, languages multiplying and priorities shifting.  Throughout this all, you remained a constant and a tangible example of the Armenian touch in this city named for “oak tress by the lake”.

Thank you for your time, for your service and for your longevity. Thank you for allowing me to feel comfortable enough to cut side streets and walk in from your back door. You were an important landmark in the city and you were important to me.  Armen Art Gallery, you will be missed.

Always With Love And The Utmost Respect `

Varak Babian

*Armen Art Gallery closed its doors at the end of June. It was one of the first galleries in the city with an impressively curated selection of Native Canadian Art. Armen Haroutunian has been the face and the motor behind the store since its opening. He leaves an undeniable imprint on the collective Toronto artistic landscape.