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.