• By: Eric Murphy

OAG on the Verge of Expansion

The view of the future gallery’s south side. Rendering by Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects / KPMB Architects.

After spending a quarter century in the historic Arts Court on Daly Avenue, the Ottawa Art Gallery is set to expand into a brand new building with four times the gallery space and a ton of other perks.

Workers are poised to begin construction just beside the old building. The machinery is in place, they’re simply waiting for city approval to start digging.

“We’re just waiting on them to finalize the contract now, which seems to be imminent,” says Alexandra Badzak, the OAG’s Director and CEO.

The new gallery should be open in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, but the move was in the works long before city council announced their sesquicentennial projects.

Gallery 3
The gallery lobby and shop. Rendering by Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects / KPMB Architects.

“We’re currently one of the smallest art galleries in Canada,” Badzak says, “and given the size of Ottawa and its importance, that’s a little embarrassing.”

The new building is set to fix that problem. During the move, the OAG will go from its current 12,000 square foot space to a new gallery with more than 80,000 square feet. It will also become much more accessible than the old building.

Completed in 1871, the courthouse is impressive and beautifully detailed, but it was meant to hold police officers, judges and criminals, not art exhibitions. The building’s elevator doesn’t even reach every floor.

“We’ve always felt that we were kind of buried within this building,” says Badzak. Inside the Arts Court, the OAG didn’t have much of a public profile. People walking by the historical building had little way of knowing what was going on inside. But the new building, with its enormous windows and banner space, should draw in plenty of passers-by.

Gallery 2
The building’s hotel and condominium tower. Rendering by Régis Côté & Associés.

The new structure will also include a 130-seat theatre, a multipurpose room for events, and a gallery shop. The first 14 floors of the building’s tower will be an environmentally friendly Groupe Germain hotel, with condos in the remaining floors above it. The gallery itself will have five floors, breaking through to the original stone Arts Court so visitors can easily hop between the two buildings.

“When all that’s done, we’ve got almost one city block dedicated to professional arts in Ottawa,” Badzak says proudly.

The project still requires a lot of hard work before Badzak’s dream is realized, though. Over the next year, the OAG will run a “Capital Campaign” to raise money for the new building. They haven’t announced their fundraising goal or events yet, but Badzak says “they’re definitely coming up.”

Other local galleries have already begun stepping forward to help in the fundraising. Wall Space Gallery on Richmond road raised money for the OAG on their “Paper” exhibit’s opening night. That show runs until August 2.

A slight complication in the OAG’s expansion is just how close their building is to the construction site.

“We’re waiting for that moment when we start blasting,” Badzak laughs. “We’re going to watch it very carefully, because of course, we’ve got very valuable art.”

The construction team is going to give gallery employees warning before each detonation so they can make sure all the art is safe and secure. That will also give employees a chance to warn the guests, as there are few things more out of place at an art gallery than dynamite blasting.

The Arts Court expansion’s tentative completion date is fall 2017. You can find out more about the project on the OAG’s website, or by following Alexandra Badzak on Twitter, where she’ll be tweeting regular work updates once construction begins.