Enriched Bread Artists

The Visual Arts in Ottawa: a time for change?

Panel Discussion with Andrea Fitzpatrick, Patrick Mikhail, Peter Honeywell and Heather Anderson Moderated by EBA artist Andrew Morrow
Friday, October 22, 2010, 7:00 8:30 pm

From left to right: Andrew Morrow(standing), Patrick Mikhail, Peter Honywell, Andrea Fitzpatrick and Heather Anderson sitting in front of Kenneth Emig's work.

You can see the panel on EBA's youtube channel.


Panel Conclusions

Andrew Morrow asked members of the audience to write conclusions for the panel. Here they are:

Conclusion by Yves M. Larocque

Conclusion by Kate Oakley:

To kick off the evening, the moderator asked each member of the panel to “describe the Visual Arts in Ottawa using one word”.  Their descriptors included “optimistic” (Patrick), “under-resourced” (Peter), “blossoming” (Andrea) and “capital” (Heather).
Next, discussion focused on whether the arts scene in Ottawa was viewed as conservative and boring.  The speaker (Peter Honewell?) described Ottawa as multilayered conservatism because governments are the main drivers, and government workers are worried about losing their jobs [so they may be less inclined to purchase art].  This contrasts with the arts community, which he describes as outrageous, interesting, resourceful, extraordinarily interesting, and not conservative.  This difference creates a challenge for the arts community where there is a crunch to find working space as buildings go up for sale, and the costs of rent downtown increase exorbitantly (i.e., $75-100 sq. foot on Bank Street).  Thus, artists are being squeezed out of the down town core.  He also expressed concern that this push suggests that the professional arts community is not being taken seriously by government.  He believes that this challenge must be addressed by asserting ourselves, and being more vocal so that we are not ignored.  More specifically, he thought that discussions should be held with the NCC and the Federal Government, who are placing a heavy blanket on the Ottawa arts scene by creating situations where artists have nowhere to move to except suburbia.  This situation is unique to Ottawa.  Other members of the panel provided comparative information about vibrant cities such as Helsinki, where the Federal and Provincial Governments provide artists with a living wage, so that they can explore their own work—the result of which is an exciting and dynamic community for the arts.  Thus, it does not appear that the Ottawa community values the arts.
Panel Recommendations:

  1. Gather research data to support our position, although we currently don’t have the capacity to gather research data in our community to develop this.
  2. Rethink the arts in our community.  We ought not to allow the City of Ottawa to paternally guide our community.
  3. Seek matching corporate funds, and create Reserve funds.

Next discussion focused on globalization, and whether the open community was reflected in the arts in Ottawa.  Andrea Fitzpatrick thought that there was evidence of globalization in the Ottawa scene, and she gave numerous examples of visiting artists including Zen Shen Liu, among others.  However, it is expensive for our own artists to travel globally; thus local artists are required to do their own research and build their own connections for globalization.  She further pointed out the difference between Global vs. International perspectives, and indicated that the movement of ideas can be done using mass media to gain a broader perspective.   Andrea felt strongly that globalization would a) enable artists in Ottawa to stay critically engaged, b) provide an opportunity to exchange our diverse heritages, c) increase the richness of the Canadian arts scene, with the capital city of Ottawa serving as the lead city for Canadian contemporary art in a similar manner that other countries do, and d) enrich Ottawa by facilitating international dialogue and exchange.  Further discussion centered on Ottawa artists becoming emissaries for Canada. She felt that for now the best approach might be to take our art scene out there (i.e., global) in a person-to-person exchange, and later to bring in institutions.  Andrea also talked about the need to change our art curriculum to mandate the inclusion of globalization; specifically, to encourage the inclusion of least two lectures on globalization in all arts courses, increase the number of visiting scholars from other countries, and increase the number of international students.  However, she also recognized the current challenges (political and financial) of doing so.  Yet, the sharing of knowledge was deemed essential.  Thus, we need to find a balance between the Canadian and the Global art scene; perhaps right now through books, memoirs, and films such as those shown at the Bytown Theatre. She further advocated the need to discover Ottawa artists who are marginalized and don’t have a voice, and learn from them so that we can develop a platform together.  In other words, “broaden our carrousel”.
The moderator next asked Patrick Mikhail to speak to challenges associated with being a city that is conservative, transient and small.  Peter pointed out that Ottawa has a different client base than most other cities.  Typically, in other Canadian cities it is the 20-30 year olds who are buying art.  In Ottawa, art collectors are not typically young—ours are more often the well educated white male professionals, 40-50 years of age, who have done their research and know what they are looking for.  Our clients want smart, well-motivated art that is museum ready (i.e., institutional quality).   His gallery also does well with art professionals (e.g., writers, art historians) who are usually females.  Peter indicated that the staff at his gallery spends a lot of time getting to know other potential clientele, and to educate them about the beautiful concepts so they have a feel for it; at the end of the day, however, they have to take it home, and want the art to fit with their décor.  Peter thought that we have an untapped resource in the young professional who is eager for a challenging environment.  In our current climate of economic meltdown, he stated that we have to become smarter about how we run things, and connect with others in the business.  For example, get involved in art projects, and work closely with local artists to foster and encourage them, and bring them into our community.   And gallery owners have to be proactive and deliberately try to sell their work; in a narrow market this means we need to move beyond our own doorsteps and take our artists out of the city, as well as bringing others in. 
Finally, Heather Anderson was invited to speak about the national mandate for Contemporary Art, and the relationship that a national institution has with the local community.  Heather indicated that the staff in their office work hard to help artists develop and prepare presentations of their work.  Also, staff keep up on data, and travel to see exhibitions and visit studios. They actively acquire art, and are constantly researching for more work.  Regrettably they always want more art than is economically feasible.  She thought that Ottawa artists have a better relationship with their institution than other cities because they are present, live here, are interested in and are involved in the local community.  For example, they are involved in art selection, university critiques, reviews, mentoring students, serve as a resource to the local art scene, and arrange artist talks and panels (where, unfortunately, the turnout is often poor).    
At the end to the formal discussion by panel members, audience participation was next invited.   
Summary of discussion that ensued:
I: Ottawa is on the verge of an exciting expansion.
II: two main thrusts: juxtaposition of Government vs. artists highlights the need for dialogue.  We may have a bad image, and/or get bad press. 
III: A Canada vs. International two-way exchange is important for growth.
IV: There is a need to increase numbers through increased connections with new artists. This will help increase the magnitude of artists’ voices in Ottawa and “broaden the pool”.  However, there will be a struggle to find a balance with saturation versus survival.  But maintaining the status quo is not an option.  We need a new way to do things; we need to be innovative, multi-layered, and multi-dimensional, as well as be proactive, and engage with other artists. 
V:  There is a need for an Ottawa Arts Commission or organization to help sell individuals, and make connections.  Similarly, there is a need to identify potential patrons and encourage them to connect with one another.  Either granting agencies or individuals could make the connections, and it could be coordinated through the organization.

My conclusion:  Things are happening!  There are a greater number of artists in the Ottawa area, yet there is a sense that artists are feeling isolated and marginalized by the push to move out of the downtown core, and the difficulty of finding an alternate affordable space to work.  By reaching out and connecting with others—particularly new artists—we will grow in numbers and have greater lobbying power with governments.  An Arts Commission for Ottawa or other organizing body could be a much needed catalyst amongst local artists and gallery owners, as well to facilitate the identification of potential art patrons( locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally) and match them with relevant artists.  Such an organization could also facilitate the apparent disconnect between research queries and research expertise that already exists within the local arts community.  Finally, such an arts organization could provide a much needed focal point to sustain balance and stability, as well as provide clarity in direction to the Ottawa arts community during its exciting energetic expansion.

Prepared by Kate Oakley, Phd
Diploma student, Ottawa School of Art
October 22, 2010