• By: Marie Waine

Artfull Embassies

Knock on the door of U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife Vicki’s Lornado residence in Rockcliffe, and you are greeted by the beautiful work of American artist Eric Fishel.

Take a few more steps inside and seven other major pieces of art will catch your eye. The Art in Embassies (AIE) Ottawa exhibition is newly opened to the public.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy launched the AIE program in the 1960s, . It shares American art around the world by displaying it in embassies and residences, creating conversation and telling an American story.

Eric Fischl, Tumbling Woman, 2001, Watercolour on Paper. Courtesy of the artist, New York, and HEXTON modern and contemporary, Chicago.

Mrs. Heyman is passionate about the AIE program and the opportunity it provides to build bridges between countries. “I met with gallerists and artists to find out what Canadians would respond to and what they would like to talk about,” she says.

Mrs. Heyman personally curated the exhibition in Ottawa. She pulled two pieces from her own private collection and found six artists willing to donate their work to the embassy for the period of the exhibition.

“My concept was why not get very strong voices in American art, only living artists and do a 360 degree examination of the art—not only here in the residence, but 360 degrees out in the community,” she says.

The National Gallery of Canada is working with Mrs. Heyman to make the AIE program interactive with the Ottawa community. In the first collaborative exhibition of its kind, four of the eight American artists will be brought to Canada to engage in a free public conversation program aptly called Contemporary Conversations. This community outreach program will enrich and expand the Ottawa exhibition. Contemporary Conversations will explore important themes common to the U.S. and Canada.

The Ottawa exhibition includes art from Eric Fischl, Nick Cave, Marie Watt, Stephen Wilkes, Chuck Close, Theaster Gates, Alex Kates and Hung Lui. The selected pieces include paintings, sculptures, mixed media and more.

“I chose art from different mediums to give a multi-dimensional look,” says Mrs. Heyman. “I wanted to see how each artist created an image that evokes a conversation about social justice.”

Conversation is exactly what happens as you walk from room to room at the Lornado residence. Each piece of art tells its own story and sparks cross-border discussions.

“I think it’s an awesome tool for cultural diplomacy and in my role here, I am really viewing myself as a cultural diplomat,” says Mrs. Heyman. “And I’m working very much in partnership with the ambassador in the cultural diplomacy platform.”

Mrs. Heyman embraced the role whole heartedly since moving from Chicago to Ottawa.

In Chicago, she is a well-known philanthropist, community builder and political fundraiser. She has worked on U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign, dedicated her time to local children’s hospitals and engaged in programs to help take kids off of the streets of the city. She says she always had a passion for people and community.

 Theaster Gates, Ole Spangled Banner, Decommissioned fire hoses and wood, Courtesy of Michael and Barbara Gamson, Houston, Texas.
Theaster Gates, Ole Spangled Banner, Decommissioned fire hoses and wood, Courtesy of Michael and Barbara Gamson, Houston, Texas.

Now, by opening up to Canadians in a new and innovative way, Mrs. Heyman says she is hoping to show how she represents her country, contemporary American lifestyle and herself.

“These things are kind of a window into my soul that allows me to open up to others and hopefully they will do the same so that we can break down those walls you might have if you’re in a diplomatic discussion or a formal setting,” says Mrs. Heyman. “People can come in, they respond to the work and really interesting conversations can happen.”

Mrs. Heyman says her passion for all areas of art began when she was young and she continues to grow and learn more. She studied art history in university and photography is now a hobby.

“The intellectual piece is really fascinating to me. I think that’s what continues to create interest and drive—the process of how a piece was conceptualized, why artists chose to express themselves that way.”

Mrs. Heyman uses this question to promote a variety of styles of art as tools for diplomacy outside of the AIE program. She says there is a way to capture the attention of almost everyone through different mediums of the arts.

Mrs. Heyman supports entrepreneurship and social innovators who are working on ventures to make the world a better place.

Through the culinary arts, she says there is collaboration with great American chefs who have been brought up to Montréal.

Education is also a main priority for her as a cultural diplomat. Mrs. Heyman is working on campuses such as Carleton University, University of Ottawa and Université de Montréal for a speaker series to engage students in thought leadership. In fact, through the AIE program, some artists are participating in a forum within local school communities. This outreach aims to link the perspective of the arts and academic communities.

Marie Watt, Skywalker/ Skyscraper (Babel), 2012, reclaimed wool blankets and steel. Courtesy of the artist and PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, Oregon.

Mrs. Heyman says she hopes to look at thematic areas and engage individuals culturally and across borders from various realms. “I can’t wait to see the reaction as we continue to create more conversations.”

Over the past year, Mrs. Heyman says she has learned much of where the U.S. and Canada can partner and improve the global landscape.

“We share so much with Canada in terms of ideals and it binds us.”

Travelling through 30 cities, multiple provinces and even one territory, Mrs. Heyman continues to see what Canada has to offer.

“It’s this mosaic of people and conversations. It’s the notion of the land, the people, the warmth of the people, the openness, the way we can learn about each other and from each other.”

As Mrs. Heyman continues her diplomacy, she is able to gain a better understanding of what she can offer Canada with the AIE program.

The best possible outcome?

She hopes through her work, she will help foster further understanding that will, “Create more connections across issues of importance, have people create their own communities and continue to highlight the art and the voice of the artist as a driver for conversation.”

There is no doubt Mrs. Heyman will be successful in her endeavour.

Photo credits:
Couvrette/Ottawa – couvrette-photography.on.ca