The panel was held at the Ottawa Art Gallery on Jan. 31. Photo: Courtesy, OAG.
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Panelists are hopeful of flourishing art scene, entering a “Renaissance”

On Jan 31, canadianart magazine launched their winter issue with a special panel on the state and content of art in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG). The panel featured an OAG curator, an Ottawa-based artist, and artist and University of Ottawa painting professor Jinny Yu talking about where Ottawa art is now and where it can go.

The talk was part of a cross-country series of panel discussions on local art, hosted by canadianart magazine, which has always sought to push a very Canadian but also very progressive view of art in this country.

Ottawa offers a lot for artists that they might not be able to get in other cities. With the federal government, a massive tech sector, and plenty of federally-funded museums and galleries, Ottawa has job opportunities for artists. Combine that with the fact that housing in Ottawa is typically less expensive than other metropolitan centres, and the nation’s capital becomes a promising place for artists to live, work, and create.

One sentiment brought up is that Ottawa exists as an isolated cultural centre stuck between Toronto and Montreal. While the scene is certainly smaller, said Yu, Ottawa is not an isolated centre.

“It is a smaller centre … in terms of artist population, but I wouldn’t say it’s isolated in the sense that I think people are very open to getting to know what’s happening elsewhere and communicating between artists within the community,” said Yu. “Moreover, I think we are willing to reach out and get stimulus from outside, so I don’t feel that it’s an isolated community at all.”

One of the biggest boosts to the Ottawa art scene, Yu maintained, is the U of O’s Department of Visual Arts, and particularly its Master of Fine Arts program. The MFA program has been critical in convincing up-and-coming artists to stay in the city and add to its art scene and has made itself an institution in the city.

“The MFA program is a big thing that has revived the contemporary art scene here because students were really leaving and now they’re staying,” Yu said.

The Ottawa art scene has been undergoing a renaissance of late, and there are multiple factors contributing to its growth. Yu singled out the newly expanded OAG as the epicentre of a blossoming art scene here, but the city itself has also had a large role to play as it has gotten behind art infrastructure in a way it never has before.

“The city got really behind this project, the Arts Court expansion, and that is having a huge ripple effect, and I think it will continue in the next little while,” Yu said. SAW video gallery, for instance, is expanding into the old Ottawa art gallery space, and the current OAG is bringing in bigger exhibitions.

“The city seems to be behind funding arts and culture, which is really great.”

While Ottawa’s art scene might be flourishing, there are still some factors holding it back, the biggest being a lack of affordable studio space. The need for more studio space was something that Yu drilled home during the panel discussion.

“It’s just this incubator kind of idea where people are left to work and then things happen. It’s a very normal thing that happens when artists have the infrastructure to make work,” said Yu. “That’s it, that’s the only thing that we lack—not self-esteem, not trends, not pride, not nothing, just affordable studio spaces.”

If one thing was universally agreed upon at the panel, it was that if you go looking for an Ottawa art trend you won’t find one. The city isn’t buying into one trend, said Yu, but that’s a good thing.

“That’s something that I really appreciate about the Ottawa art scene—you have more freedom because there is no trend, because there is no pride in just being here, you just have to make work.”


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