No matter what side of the debate you’re on — that Ottawa artists are leaving for bigger cities or that the local scene is thriving with more artists maintaining — we can all agree on two points: Ottawa is full of talented artists and they need more support. Many lack the tools and resources they need to display or perform their work and simply need a platform on which to be seen and heard. That’s where RAW Canada comes in. While based in Los Angeles, the company has made its debut further north to connect artists across the board from fashion designers and photographers to musicians and aerial performers. It’s an independent organization created by artists for artists and the format has proven successful in over 80 cities throughout the U.S., Australia and the U.K since its inception in 2009.
“As we know, Canada is a huge country with a small population but we have phenomenal artists at every turn,” says Cynthia Ballesteros, executive director, RAW Canada. “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to build out Canada because I see the potential and understand the struggles artists face as one myself. There really isn’t anything like RAW here and I think it can be even bigger in Canada.”
RAW made its first impact last summer in Montreal and Vancouver and is now coming to Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg in the next few months. The strategy was to start with the west coast and east coast, adding other Canadian cities as it evolved.
“Ottawa is on the map for emerging artists,” added Ballesteros. “Many of them heard about RAW and made the effort to drive to Montreal for shows, so we knew there was a real need in the Capital.”
Officially launching on the same night (Feb. 27), RAW Ottawa and RAW Toronto are aiming to support artists from nine different disciplines including fashion, music, visual art, film, performing art, photography, hair and makeup.
“The first artist to join RAW Ottawa was Josh Hotz, an emerging photographer,” says Talhia McNeil, showcase director for RAW Ottawa. “He specializes in skateboard photography and is well known in those circles and is now branching into fashion photography.”
RAW creates professional portfolios, videos and other promotional materials to help artists like Hotz get their work out to the public eye. It also sets up shows featuring artists from these different areas, attracting audiences of all ages and interests.
“Our shows are very different from others — it’s not just your average vernissage,” says Ballesteros. “It’s very eclectic because we dig deep to find underground artists who don’t have a form to showcase their art on. We could have body painters and aerialists swinging from the ceiling all at one show.”
Ottawa’s showcase will take place at Mansion Nightclub.
“There is going to be so much emerging talent at this event, we are coming up to 30 artists for this showcase, it will be a night to remember,” added McNeil.
Such talent includes: several visual artists like Angela Hillier, a painter from Ottawa U and her partner photographer Mike Wozniak; Artist and Muse, another painting duo (husband and wife team) showcasing their Squirt Project; Zoi (Gary Fortune) all the way from Toronto, hoping build a following in Ottawa and Luminartists, an interactive art installation. For Fashion, local designer Kelly Ray is featured, Skoser clothing who raises awareness for cancer through their clothing line and Babes & Gents who formed in August and donates to UNICEF. Musical talent consists of Sleep and Noise, folk artists Lora Bidner and the psycobilly band The Sick Sick Sicks.
The organization also hosts the RAW Awards at the end of every year, a nation-wide search for talent that is similar to the Junos with a voting system, followed by a panel of celebrity judges. For Ballesteros, the most important message of RAW is the inclusion factor and how art can make a real-world difference.
“There is such a diverse mix of ethicises featured within our artists, their work and even our audience,” she added. “It just proves how powerful art is in that it can bring people together without prejudice.”
RAW Ottawa will launch Feb. 27 from 7-11 p.m. at Mansion Nightclub. For more information, visit www.rawartists.org.