WHY BUY: Ottawa Art Gallery’s #lepARTy2016 & why buying art matters

Ottawa’s art auctions create opportunities to strengthen the arts community.

My first month living in Ottawa I made a small purchase – a tiny black and white painting of a woman who stared out from the frame with an ambiguous gaze. The artist had rendered her with no legs. She ended at her torso where the edges of her baggy shirt stopped abruptly on the paper. She represented my feeling of being truncated due to no roots in the city I unexpectedly had arrived in. Two years later that same painting sits on my desk as a reminder of how deep my roots have grown and that I have found myself located in a thriving arts community. I bought this piece at a fundraiser art auction. The purchase I made will always be linked to the memory of that night and the inspiration I received from being in a city that supports the arts.

That night became the first of many local art auctions I  found myself attending, including Ottawa Art Gallery’s Le pARTy. They have become annual traditions that I don’t want to miss. I watch friends get into hot bidding frenzies in order to expand their art collections. I like having my calendar year punctuated by celebratory moments of people purchasing art. I like seeing the exhilaration people get when they invest in something that moves them. Off the wall the work comes and into their home it goes along with the story of the where and the why on how they acquired the work.

But it’s more than just buying the work, it’s about the relationships that are formed around the event – the planning and the people who put those plans into action, the artists who donate, the collectors who buy and the organizations that reach out their audience. It’s a feedback loop that, when done well, has the potential to benefit everyone in the community – the artists, the art lovers and local galleries and artist-run-centres.

Last year, at Le pARTy I watched (with envy) as a beautiful work went home with a lucky couple. That couple, Bridget Thompson and Danny Hussey (Central Art Garage) are known around town for being the kind of people who actively walk the talk and participate in multiple ways to encourage a healthy art scene in Ottawa. Danny shared with me that “as collectors both Bridget and I see the auction as a chance to connect with and support artists. We look for work by regional and Ottawa artists that are interacting with the broader Canadian and international art scene. We never really know ahead of time what if anything we will buy. One of the best parts of the art auction is meeting the artists and getting to know more about them. Once you make that bond it becomes natural to follow their careers and to continue to support them.”

“Caitlin” from Second Self Series by Meryl McMaster

The artist whose work they purchased last year, Meryl McMaster, is currently exhibiting locally at Ottawa’s Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). Meryl is one of many Ottawa artists whose reach is branching out beyond Ottawa. Nationally, Meryl’s work belongs to collections at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria as well as internationally at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian but despite her growing success home is where her heart still remains.

When I asked why she participates in OAG’s art auction she replied “I donate my work to Le pARTy primarily because I believe in the Ottawa Art Gallery is an important institution for Ottawa and I find it rewarding to support the work that they do, supporting local arts and bringing great artists to show in our city. Le pARTy is a good opportunity for artists to have their work viewed by a broad new audience and for art collectors to discover new artists that they are not familiar with. This all happens in a lively environment that allows artists to form new connections with people in their local community.”

At this year’s Le pARTy Danny isn’t just showing up as a collector, he is also playing an important role in the planning process of Thursday night’s now SOLD OUT event.

“From the administrative side, this year I am serving as Co-chair of the auction along with Hattie Klotz. There is so much that goes into the the event and such a long list of contributors. It would not be possible without the artists contributing work, the restaurants and caterers that donate their services and food, all of the corporate sponsors and dozens and dozens of volunteers. The staff at the OAG does a lot of the work behind the scenes and they should get a large share of the credit.”

Also lending a hand as well as adding a critical eye for
#lepARTy2016 is Vicki Heyman, wife of the US Ambassador to Canada. Known for the cultural tour de force she has brought to the Ottawa arts community with the Art in Embassies initiative including Contemporary Conversations at the National Gallery of Canada, Vicki is one of this year’s participating jurors.

“This is my third year attending Ottawa Art Gallery’s Le pARTy and my first time participating as a Critic. It was such an honor to be asked to participate in a deep way in Le pARTy – I feel strongly about supporting the OAG and the artist community here in Ottawa. The artists in the Ottawa area have such talent, and they are truly representative of the diverse narratives of Canadian stories, culture and heritage. It is always special to connect with and support local talent because you get the opportunity to experience the voice of the artist, not just the art, and develop rich relationships that often transcend the art itself. The Ottawa Art Gallery is a treasure in this city, and I am looking forward to the completion of the transformative expansion and redevelopment of the building and programming.”

As Ottawa gears up for the 2017 moment that includes the renovations of the Arts Court building and the Ottawa Art Gallery these events that bring us together grow in importance. And this Thursday, OAG’s Director Alexandra Bardak reminds us, “Le pARTy 2016 marks a special year for the Ottawa Art Gallery. This is both the 20th year of the event and the final year in our current spaces. Each of the art auctions over the past 20 years has been the result of our supportive community. The OAG is extremely thankful to all of our partners – from the artists who donate work, the guests who buy tickets and purchase artworks, the restaurants and caterers who supply food and drink, and the corporate and community partners who support the event. Many of these people have been with us from the beginning and we’re looking forward to celebrating with them on Thursday, June 9th.”
So why buy? Because along with a work you can love each day and a lasting memory of great event shared with friends you are also investing in the future of your community.It feels good to put your money where your heart (and your home) is.

Missed out on getting your Le pARTy ticket? You can attend the Pre Le pARTy event tomorrow night.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 Doors Open at 6 pm Panel begins at 6:30 pm
WHERE: Ottawa Art Gallery (2 Daly Ave)
TICKETS: Free! RSVP through Eventbrite

TOPIC: Where does photography fit within the contemporary art gallery?

“A panel discussion and Q&A with photo-based artists and photographers from Ottawa exploring the role of photography today both in and out of the public and private gallery space. An initiative started in conjunction with Le pARTy in 2014, Le pre pARTy consists of a lively panel, moderated this year by Michelle Gewurtz, Interim Senior Curator at Ottawa Art Gallery, followed by a Q&A and reception with music, mingling, hors d’oeuvres and beverages.

This free event also offers the opportunity to view the installed artworks available at Le pARTy in advance of the auction as well as the chance to purchase the Le pARTy Special Edition photograph portfolios a day early!”


Above images by Maija Hirsimaki courtesy of Ottawa Art Gallery.

SEWING CIRCLES & SOUNDSUITS: The Art in Embassies initiative connects social nexuses in Ottawa

Marie Watt’s sewing circle and Nick Cave’s SoundSuits provide ways to start discussions around challenging issues. 

As our long winter was on it’s way out and a new spring beginning an interesting initiative began here in Ottawa. Vicki Heyman, wife of US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, launched Art in Embassies, a project started by John F. Kennedy as way to share the talent of American artists abroad as well as “start cross-cultural dialogue“.

Maria Watt was the American artist chosen to open what has become a series of events focused on the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The timing seemed oddly predestined. Marie, a woman of mixed Settler / Indigenous heritage sat on the stage at the National Gallery of Canada speaking to Greg Hill (the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) about the connecting quality of her work.

“My work draws from my experience as a Scottish German Seneca person in the US growing up in Oregon…[I explore] Indigenous moments in history and European history – those nexuses.”  

This was on the eve of the Roundtable Discussion on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was also taking place in Ottawa that week. On the Friday, as Carleton University was hosting the National Roundtable, the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), in collaboration with Art in Embassies, was holding a roundtable on Indigenizing the Gallery with Marie as the honoured guest participant. If a nexus “is a series of connections linking two more more things” than what was happening at that precise moment in Ottawa, in the social spaces where art, academia and politics converge, was a moment where Indigenous women’s voices were being prioritized.

One of Marie’s well known works is Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth. The piece was installed during the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: Indigenous International Art exhibit and true to Marie’s practice it involved sending a call out to participate. A request was made for anyone who wanted to contribute to drop off or mail out a wool or natural fiber blanket to the NGC. The original call out on the Sakàhan website describes how the installation:

“will highlight the rich history of commerce and trade in Ottawa. The word “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade.”

Along with their blankets participants were requested to write a story that illustrated the importance of that blanket to their family. The stories become the currency and their richness is revealed in their ability to criss-cross countries and cultures, span many generations and fuse past with present. With her works involving blankets Marie does what she can to have the stories available for audiences to read (view some of stories from the NGC install here). At her National Gallery talk she related a few of them to us. One story was Peter’s. The blanket he gave to Marie came from a concentration camp. If I remember correctly, it was his wife’s and it was all she had when she was liberated from the camp. Eventually that same blanket would be used to wrap and protect art work purchased by the couple in the life they created together. Marie feels that such a story flies in the face of Hitler’s denigration of art and is a perfect symbol of reclamation – a blanket’s meaning transformed by its new role.

The stories are also ways for people to enter into the intimate space of another. In this complex historical moment where we struggle to understand the meaning of words like reclamation and reconciliation sometimes the way of navigating that complexity is through the simple act of creating a space for people to share moments. This is the strength of the Art in Embassies initiative which has been infused by Vicki’s desire to explore art as social practice precisely because it can build bridges and foster understanding between disparate social circles. As a way of gathering a diverse group together for a common goal, another event that was held as part of Marie’s visit to Ottawa was a sewing circle. It was moving to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders stitching together in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. And the artist was present! Marie took the time to speak with people as well as listen to new stories being shared. For Marie, it’s about being affable in her process. As she says, a sewing circle is about “tucking yourself into something as humble and familiar as cloth. It’s a safe space that’s a much more informal space – getting together in a neighbourly way.”


In these informal spaces people can digest what they might otherwise feel challenged to confront. Marie’s work, although not overtly political, is charged by a political climate that does it best to ignore Indigenous rights and a national leader who publicly declared that the issue of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) as not “really high on our radar.” As a Seneca woman she uses her art as a way to generously share Indigenous teachings to a non-Indigenous audience.

The next artist speaking as part of the series is Nick Cave. Nick’s work is also about looking at social as well as disciplinary nexuses of art, dance and fashion. Like Marie, he uses the act of sewing and assemblage to move a challenging conversation forward. The intense subject of racial profiling prompted Nick to look at ways we disregard and denigrate. His first “soundsuit” was created by gathering discarded sticks and twigs, the things that surround us during our day that we ignore and allow to become invisible. The final product functioned as both apparel to be worn by a dancer during a performance and sculpture to be inserted into a gallery space. Whether still or animated by performers whose race and class are concealed inside the soundsuits, Nick’s work is meant to break open a space. They are impossible to ignore. As performers climb inside they have a chance to access the feeling of being connected with something seemingly foreign from their everyday but yet some of the materials that Nick utilizes, like Marie’s blankets, are humble ones that are familiar to all.

Again, the timing of this event is important. After months and months of the heaviness of how racial profiling is being executed – literally – by agents of power, we need to widen the discussion around race that has been split open by the murders of black men at the hands of the police. The problematics of race isn’t just an American issue. Here in Canada the erasure of Black bodies in cultural, academic and political institutions has the potential to fester and become a much deeper problem. We need to have the challenging conversations immediately and those conversations have to happen in places like the National Gallery of Canada, an institution where Black contribution to Canadian history and art has been close to absent. No time like the present.

I applaud the audacious spirit that Vicki has brought to the cultural table here in Ottawa and I look forward to participating in more of these types events that create a nexus for change by widening the circle of social influence.

You can follow the conversation at #artconvoAIE. More events will be coming up in 2015!

All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.