New Ottawa Art Gallery to spotlight 6,500 years of regional art

“Finally we will have a home for the arts that is worthy of the artistic talent in the city,” beams Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) Director and CEO, Alexandra Badzak as brightly as the new John Ruddy Cube ready to light up the Ottawa skyline next week.

With it, the Capital’s cultural landscape is about to see an elevation. Six floors, to be exact. After many years of hard work, the opening of the newly expanded OAG on April 28 is set to become a momentous moment in the city’s artistic community with an opening exhibition fittingly honoring 6,500 years of making art in Ottawa-Gatineau.  

Though coinciding with the revitalization of Ottawa’s downtown core and other projects centered around Canada’s 150th, Badzak says that from the gallery’s inception the goal was to strive for something bigger. Housed inside Arts Court, the original OAG  was unable to support that vision let alone the amount of artwork that could be populating bigger walls.

Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) Director and CEO, Alexandra Badzak. Photo credit: Rémi Thériault

“Being one of the smallest municipal galleries in Canada, we needed a larger space and one designed, first and foremost as a museum with all the technically specifications that it requires,” says Badzak, adding that, outside of more space to showcase the art, the gallery needed expanded storage spaces and other amenities for clients, artists and the public.

“More than anything the OAG needed its own front door to Ottawa, the new building needed to give us presence and profile within the city.”

Stretching across one city block with entrances off Mackenzie Bridge and Daly Avenue, the OAG will now have 55,000 square feet of programmable spaces. Visitors can also expect the gallery to be more luminous and the larger areas will give art lovers more room to peruse. They’ll have ample opportunity with the inaugural exhibit Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories, 193 historical and contemporary works on display by 181 artists.

 “We have never had the opportunity to tell our story at this scale before, and it is an amazing, complex and diverse story! You will see contemporary artworks in dialogue with historical pieces,” Badzak says.

Badzak goes on to add that they wanted to first exhibition works to be centered around the region because it was the local artists and cultural leaders who lobbied to create the OAG itself 30 years ago.

“We also had to present the diversity of art making in the region, from the earliest works by Algonquin artists to reaching across the river to represent Francophone artists, to English speaking artists who have called Ottawa home and new Canadians.”

The $34-million renovation has also allowed for more dedicated gallery space for the beloved Firestone Collection of Canadian Art which includes works by the Group of Seven. Another gallery holds the growing OAG Permanent Collection with other shifting galleries reserved for contemporary, historical and touring exhibitions. Two outdoor terraces (one overlooking the Peace Tower), a child care facility, multi-propose room and cinema space, and the new Jackson café –named after Group of Seven founding member A.Y. Jackson– are also part of the new OAG. With much more to look after, they have had to bulk up in other areas as well.

 “We knew we weren’t just building a building but growing an institution for art, so we expanded staff, built new business units, expanded programs as well as having longer hours of operations, and a huge commitment to accessibility,” Badzak says, adding that there were no down times for the team over the construction.

“They put their heart and soul into making the OAG Expansion a reality.”

You can see for yourself when the OAG opens to the public on Saturday April 28 with free activities for all ages. Check for more details.