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Pearl Lam and Basma Al Sulaiman on their feisty, art-fuelled friendship

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We met because Basma and one of my friends shared a divorce lawyer!” Gallerist Pearl Lam and her friend Basma Al Sulaiman laugh heartily as they sit in Al Sulaiman’s impressively appointed, art-filled London home. Lam recalls their first encounter around 2004 as they sip tea: “The lawyer introduced my friend to Basma and said, ‘If you collect Chinese art, you must meet Pearl.’”

With her gravity-defying purple bob – paired when we meet with a lemon-yellow jumper – Lam has been involved in the Chinese art world for nearly 30 years. In 1993, she began collecting Chinese art; in 2005, she opened her first physical space in Shanghai and since 2012 has had a second Pearl Lam Galleries space in her hometown of Hong Kong, representing homegrown and international artists from pioneering Chinese abstract painter Zhu Jinshi to British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.

The duo in front of Hamdi & Hamada, 2009, by Adel El Siwi
The duo in front of Hamdi & Hamada, 2009, by Adel El Siwi © Joshua Tarn

Saudi Arabia-born Al Sulaiman, meanwhile, began collecting contemporary art in the 1990s. Her first purchase was a Hockney, and today she owns more than 800 works ranging from high-profile international artists such as Ai Weiwei, Tracey Emin and Andy Warhol to Saudi artists. In 2000 she moved to London and completed a diploma in modern and contemporary art from Christie’s Education. It was then that she became interested in Chinese art. “A Saudi collecting Chinese art!” explodes Lam. “You know? It was so strange to me. And she was buying political pop art.” She shakes her head. “I thought, ‘Why?!’”

“Because it was different from what I’d been seeing; it was fresh, it was human, it was real,” says Al Sulaiman, who has never worked with an art adviser and was introduced to Chinese art through a friend. “He called me and said, ‘Basma, there’s this amazing artist, I love his work but it’s too big for my house, would you be interested to see it?’” The artist was Beijing-based Yue Minjun, now famous for his “Cynical Realist” oil paintings depicting himself laughing, his face frozen in a demonic grin. Al Sulaiman bought the painting Face on the Land in 2003 for £40,000. In 2007, when Sotheby’s London auctioned Yue’s seminal 1995 work inspired by the Tiananmen Square massacre, Execution, it sold for a record-breaking £2.9mn – the highest price for a contemporary Chinese artwork at the time.

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“People started to buy contemporary Chinese art in 1995,” explains Lam. “In the early 2000s – when Basma was there – it was just a very interesting, exciting time. There was this vibrant art scene, the government had not endorsed it, and there were only a handful of Chinese collectors – so tourists were going there to buy art as a souvenir, because the prices were low. After about 2006, though, it went crazy.” Before then, Al Sulaiman would travel to China regularly, discovering artists while visiting her daughter, who was working in Shanghai. But she met Lam for the first time at a dinner in London. The two clicked straight away – but more because of what they didn’t agree on than what they did, says Lam. “Basma loves political pop; I don’t. I consider political pop to be the western definition of Chinese contemporary art. And Basma likes figurative art; I don’t. But when you’re talking about art, it’s much better to have two different opinions,” she says.

The first piece Al Sulaiman bought from Lam was by Shao Fan – “a deconstructed Chinese chair, put together as a sculpture. And eventually, she bought Chinese abstracts,” says Lam, referencing two works in Al Sulaiman’s home by Beijing-based Zhu Jinshi, a pioneer of Chinese abstract painting who cakes his canvases in heavy, impasto layers. “He uses a shovel to throw on the paint,” says Al Sulaiman, standing in front of a large-scale triptych that she bought in 2015. “It’s so beautiful. When you think about it as a landscape, you can see it, you can feel it.”

In fact, abstraction is well represented in her home, and two minimalist, multi-frame works command the living space: the first, consisting of nine pink Plexiglas squares, is by French conceptualist Daniel Buren (Framed Colours, 9 Magenta Elements, 2007), and the other is a series of bi-colour paintings (Hommage à Le Corbusier, 2000) by German modernist Günther Förg. At the other end of the room is a huge work by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, its undulating, nearly 5m-high form constructed from bottle tops pieced together with copper wire. “I bought it in 2012, but only when I moved in here in May was I able to see it,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons I bought this place: I needed big walls.” The art is all displayed, slightly incongruously, alongside 18th-century antique furniture – from France, Italy and England – and French Aubusson tapestries. “Pearl doesn’t like my carpets,” Al Sulaiman smiles.

Tea and cake served on Herend porcelain
Tea and cake served on Herend porcelain © Joshua Tarn

The other place where Al Sulaiman’s collection lives is online. In 2011, she launched Basmoca, a virtual museum that can be walked around via an avatar. “I wanted eagerly to share the collection but the concept of building a physical space back home in Saudi Arabia was a bit difficult at that time,” she recalls. Instead, she explored the idea of creating a space within the online multimedia platform Second Life, but eventually built her own virtual world.

“Basically, Basma was doing metaverse before anyone else was doing metaverse,” says Lam. “But it was like gibberish to people,” adds Al Sulaiman. “Nobody understood it at that time, it was way too early. Now, of course, everybody is doing it.” Earlier this year, she showed a portion of her Saudi art collection in a physical space – inside Maraya, a striking, mirrored building in Saudi Arabia’s historic desert canyon site AlUla.

Al Sulaiman has also dipped her toe in NFTs. She points to a screen on the wall. “It resembles Monet’s Water Lilies,” she says of the digital work by Italian artist Davide Quayola, which plays on a loop and is surrounded by a wall of portraits – most are “classical”, but there is one with a cat’s head. “It’s supposed to be Mao,” she says of the painting by Shanghai-born artist Qiu Jie.

Little Red Book Series – 192 ceramic pieces by Xu Yihui
Little Red Book Series – 192 ceramic pieces by Xu Yihui © Joshua Tarn

“It’s unusual for traditional art collectors to buy NFTs because they have no museum credentials,” suggests Lam, adding the cryptocurrency crash earlier this year has led to a weaker market for NFTs, but that they still have a role to play for a younger generation of artists and collectors. “There are young artists selling NFTs for $50 or $100. This is democratised art. And if it’s not NFT, another mode of technology will emerge.”

One of the artists Lam represents is London-based Philip Colbert, a self-titled “pioneer of the metaverse” who this year launched NFT project The Lobstars. And an artist Lam is keen to introduce to Al Sulaiman is Mr Doodle, aka British artist Sam Cox, who recently covered his entire Kent home in his graphic, graffiti-like imagery; the stop-motion video of the process has been watched nearly 2mn times on YouTube. “I did check him out after you told me,” says Al Sulaiman to her friend. “It’s very different. Interesting…”

“I know some of these things are not your aesthetic,” says Lam, “but I think it’s interesting because this is the new generation of artists. Our minds should be very open – my gallery mission is about cultural exchange.”

Both women describe each other as “open-minded”, and they often travel together, visiting art fairs and discovering new artists. A few years ago they went to Japan – to Tokyo and the island of Naoshima – with friends. Earlier this year they took a trip to Saudi Arabia – a first for Lam. They’ve also recently uncovered an artist they’re equally passionate about: Maha Malluh. “Her work is all about found objects, about reminiscing and history,” says Al Sulaiman, walking over to a sculpture constructed from old enamelled cooking pots. Another artist they agree on is Babajide Olatunji, who they came across at the Art Dubai fair, and whose work Lam bought on the spot – a charcoal and pastel portrait that is hyperrealistic yet depicts an imagined sitter. Lam will showcase the Nigerian artist at her Shanghai space next year, while another of his drawings has made it on to Al Sulaiman’s walls (via Sotheby’s, for £10,000).

Other works in Al Sulaiman’s collection include figurative paintings by Egyptian artist Adel El Siwi (Hamdi & Hamada, 2009) and Norfolk-based Jonathan Wateridge. But just as Lam considers herself a conduit for a diverse cross-section of artists in China, Al Sulaiman’s ultimate dream is to bring her eclectic collection to a permanent space in Saudi Arabia, where in 2014 she became the first woman to receive an award from the government for her contributions to the country’s art and cultural spheres. “Culture is a bond,” she concludes. “It bonds people in a special language that doesn’t need a translation.”

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Her Art Was Once Viewed as “Obscene.” Now Martha Edelheit’s Nudes Are Finally Gaining Acclaim After Decades in Obscurity – artnet News

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I am rooting for Martie Edelheit.

At the age of 91, she’s finally emerging from years of obscurity. Her mind is clear and her body agile enough to enjoy every small step of it all—a bustling opening, a post-opening dinner at the fashionable restaurant Il Buco—while leaning on a cane, or a friend’s arm. Small, fierce, outspoken, Martha Edelheit keeps pushing forward, with new 11-foot paintings and a planned return to New York City, her hometown.

I first encountered Edelheit in the context of another story, which explored the asymmetry of market acclaim for female artists based on the findings of the Burns Halperin Report.

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As I wrote in December: “The overwhelming majority of women, especially women of a certain age, are ghosts as far as auction sales go. The reasons for this vary, from the market’s preference for painting over conceptual and performance art to lack of access to the gallery system to individual choices to slow artistic production during child-rearing years.”

Edelheit came to my attention because she wasn’t listed among more than 2,000 women surveyed in the report. That’s because not a single one of her works has come up for auction since she started making art some 70 years ago. 

Martha Edelheit, Tattooed Lady (1962). Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody via Eric Firestone Gallery © Martha Edelheit / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Martha Edelheit, Tattooed Lady (1962). Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody via Eric Firestone Gallery
© Martha Edelheit / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

But things are changing. This week, Edelheit’s solo show “Naked City: Paintings from 1965-1980” opened at Eric Firestone Gallery in Manhattan, with prices ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. Her 1962 painting, Tattooed Lady, was a recently a star of “New York 1962-1964,” an exhibition at the Jewish Museum exploring the rise of Pop Art. A limited-edition print based on this work and priced at $2,200 just came out on Her Clique, with half of the proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood and Doctors Without Borders. Next month Edelheit’s early abstract paintings will be part of “Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70,” a survey of an overlooked generation of 81 international women artists at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248403" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248403" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1024×487.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Women in Landscape (1966-68). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”487″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1024×487.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-300×143.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-1536×730.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1-50×24.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/dCz7USE7-1.jpeg 1800w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Women in Landscape (1966-68). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“A lot has happened for her in the past five years,” said Eric Firestone, listing strong sales from her first exhibition in 2017, multiple museum acquisitions, scholarly texts, and upcoming institutional shows.  

Edelheit’s figurative paintings still shock, irk, dazzle. The naked body is there to behold in all its glorious detail— every pubic hair, skin roll, and nipple—on a scale that succeeds in being both monumental and intimate. The models look relaxed as they lounge and recline, enveloped by verdant foliage or sumptuous fabrics. One canvas, Women in Landscape (1966-68), consists of three panels and measures almost 17 feet across.

“She’s taking gestures, poses, compositional framework from the Renaissance and redoing them around these concerns of the body and the self,” said art historian Melissa Rachleff, who included Edelheit in “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery in New York in 2017. “When you look at her works compositionally, you see Dürer, you see Rubens, you see Botticelli.”

Edelheit said her interest in the naked body has been keen since childhood. She was one of those girls who immediately undressed and dismembered a new doll. “I was looking for genitals,” she said. “But all dolls were neutered.”

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248405" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248405" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1024×626.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, David x 2 (1971). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”626″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1024×626.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-300×184.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1536×940.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-2048×1253.jpeg 2048w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-50×31.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/L0IbZB9k-1920×1175.jpeg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, David x 2 (1971). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

Her early works in the 1950s were abstract paintings that owed color sensibility and compositional patchwork to Michael Loew, an American artist who lived on the island of Monhegan in Maine. Edelheit and her first husband, psychoanalyst Henry Edelheit, visited Monhegan in the summers.

“We were sharing a house,” she recalled. “He had a studio on the first floor, and we were on the second floor. There was a balcony, and I would look down and watch him work. And I learned more about painting by watching him work than I learned any from any class. He was what they called back then a Neoplastic painter, a disciple of Mondrian.”

In New York, Edelheit was becoming part of the avant-garde scene, a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space and its offshoot the Reuben Gallery, where she had her first solo show in 1960. She was friends with Susan Sontag, the first person she met as a University of Chicago undergrad, and artists Carolee Schneemann and Rosalyn Drexler. Her male peers included Claes Oldenberg, Lucas Samaras, Jim Dine, Robert Rosenquist, and Allan Kaprow.

Installation view, "Martha Edelheit: Naked City, Paintings from 1965-1980" at Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

Installation view, “Martha Edelheit: Naked City, Paintings from 1965-1980” at Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“As she befriended artists who were engaged in performance and happenings, those exchanges opened up a space of possibility for her to consider the body,” Rachleff said.

Despite her active exhibition history, Edelheit sold very little art and was rarely reviewed while “the boys all got galleries and moved uptown and into the museums,” she said.

It didn’t occur to her that this had something to do with gender because she didn’t see herself as a female artist—she simply thought of herself as an artist.

The feminist movement opened her eyes to gender discrimination. Initially reluctant to join it—she was “dragged in kicking and screaming,” she said—she became an active member.

“I was forced into it because of what was happening with women artists,” she said. “Not just me, but all the women artists I knew.”

The overt sexuality of her artworks—later dubbed “radical eroticism” by art historian Rachel Middleman—was also a complication.

In 1966, a New York Times critic spent more than two hours at her exhibition at Byron Gallery uptown only to inform the gallery owner that he “can’t review that obscene woman,” she recalled. “Charles Byron had a show in his office of a guy who did postcard-size landscapes. So, he did a review of that.”

An event that had a profound impact on Edelheit’s life and art took place in 1957, when her younger brother, Robert Ross, suffered a horrific motorcycle accident while on vacation in Sweden. He spent months in a coma and years in rehabilitation. A Korean War veteran, he was treated in U.S. military hospitals that were filled with crippled servicemen. What she saw there while looking after him found its way into her works on paper from the early 1960s.

Her “Children’s Games” series of ink drawings are filled with headless, limbless figures doing horrible things to themselves and each other. Masked amputees appear in her ink-and-watercolor works like Bird House With Baby (1962) and Dream of the Tattoo Lady (1961). The chains and masks in these works are suggestive of sadomasochism.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248411" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248411" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1024×583.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Self Portrait with Tools (1975). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”583″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1024×583.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-300×171.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1536×874.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-2048×1166.jpeg 2048w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-50×28.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/MoERrG6H-1920×1093.jpeg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Self Portrait With Tools (1975). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“I wasn’t thinking about S&M,” Edelheit said, explaining instead that “masks were a way of not having to show the emotions of the figures represented.”

The circus, which she loved as a child, was another frequent theme.

“Back then, before you walked into the circus, there was what they called the freak shows,” she remembered. “That’s where you’d see the world’s tallest man, the world’s fattest woman, a two-headed dog or a two-headed cow.”

That’s where she also first saw tattooed people.

“I was hypnotized by them,” she said. “The idea of painting your body, of marking your body forever was really a powerful image for me.”

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248417" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248417" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-853×1024.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Boating Central Park (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”853″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-853×1024.jpeg 853w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-250×300.jpeg 250w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1279×1536.jpeg 1279w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1706×2048.jpeg 1706w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-42×50.jpeg 42w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/LsQTMuaH-1599×1920.jpeg 1599w” sizes=”(max-width: 853px) 100vw, 853px”>

Martha Edelheit, Boating Central Park (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

She began exploring tattoos in earnest in 1962 with a series of “Tattoo Paintings.” She painted tattoos on mannequin hands, arms, and legs as well as in her “Back Paintings” of 1972 to 1975. Several of these works are now on view at Eric Firestone Gallery.  

Tattoos were not just a decorative trope, according to Jennifer Samet, who works closely with Edelheit and organized both of her shows at the gallery.

“The paintings become this arena in which she can depict not only their bodies, but their ideas and dreams,” Samet said. “She used imagined tattoos as a way to tell those dreams.”

Edelheit spent the past 30 years in Sweden, where she moved after her first husband died and she remarried. She met her second husband, Sam Nilsson, years earlier, after her brother’s accident. A budding journalist, he would go on to become the head of Swedish public broadcasting and a prominent figure in the media and culture circles. Edelheit unexpectedly found herself in a new role, attending Nobel Prize galas and having dinners with the country’s king and queen.

“It’s like someone handed me a movie script,” she said. “All of a sudden I had a closet full of evening gowns.”  

Her art had to adjust as well. She settled in a remote area on an island, with the nearest bus stop seven kilometers away. This wasn’t the kind of place where she could ask a neighbor to strip and model for her.

<img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-2248413" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-2248413" src="https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1024×757.jpeg" alt="Martha Edelheit, Seals, Central Park Zoo (1970-71). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.” width=”1024″ height=”757″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1024×757.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-300×222.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-1536×1136.jpeg 1536w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob-50×37.jpeg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2023/01/wxg5xTob.jpeg 1786w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”>

Martha Edelheit, Seals, Central Park Zoo (1970-71). Courtesy of the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery, New York.

“I think it was Rubens who said, ‘I paint what’s in front of my nose,’” she said. “And I looked out the window and what was in front of my nose was sheep. So, I did. I’ve been working with sheep and landscape for the last umpteen years.”

She used materials she found in her environment, making canvases out of chicken wire and papier-mâché and creating a lot of wire sculptures of sheep.

Now another change is looming. Following Nilsson’s death in 2020, Edelheit wants to return to New York. She spent several months in the city coinciding with her exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and Eric Firestone.

The stay brought back the memories of all the people who used to be part of her life, the models who became her friends, the 5,000-square-foot studio at the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue and East 92nd Street (where she paid $125 a month in rent).

Once again seeing the paintings she created in that studio has been intense.

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What to do in Burnaby in February: Art exhibition at gallery – Burnaby Now

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A new exhibition at Burnaby Art Gallery is weaving conversations of beauty, race and colonialism between fine tendrils of gold and hair.

The exhibit, Ornament and Instrument, showcases the intricate and meticulous work of Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist Karin Jones.

Jones, who was nominated last year for the prestigious Sobey Art Award for emerging Canadian artists, studies how historical narratives shape identities.

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Her installation piece Worn, commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum, features prominently: a bustled Victorian mourning dress created using braided hair extensions, surrounded by cotton bolls scattered on the floor below – some stuffed with Jones’ hair.

Her artist statement explains the mourning dress symbolizes sadness, “high culture,” the British Empire and the constraints of feminine beauty norms.

The piece “underlines African hairstyles as a craft as refined as any decorative art produced in Europe; it alludes to the invisible labour of the thousands of Africans who contributed to the wealth of the British Empire,” states Jones.

Jones has also created a new iteration of the work Freed, using an early 20th-century dress from the Burnaby Village Museum’s collection.

Jones’ expertise in jewelry and goldsmithing comes into sharp relief through “Damascene inlay work on objects such as farm tools,” as she explores the intersections of beauty and race.

The exhibition’s opening reception will be Thursday, Feb. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m.

The gallery’s opening hours are Tuesday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and weekends between noon and 5 p.m.

Ornament and Instrument: Art Show in Burnaby

When: Feb. 2 to April 16
Where: Burnaby Art Gallery (6344 Deer Lake Ave.)
Cost: $5 suggested donation

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PROFILE: Christine Hager a behind-the-scenes pillar of local art

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Behind every local art event and program are those who make it all happen, and one person who works hard to make Orillia’s arts community thrive is Christine Hager.

Since moving to Orillia more than 20 years ago, Hager has found herself involved in a variety of non-profit organizations in the city.

She has volunteered full-time at Couchiching Jubilee House, served as executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre and, for the past eight years, has worked as secretary for the Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC).

One might think Hager, given her resumé, has had a lifelong passion for non-profit work and the arts, but her involvement in Orillia’s creative scene stems from a background in business, and her artistic career is limited to her hobby of sketching horses while growing up.

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“I am not an artist. I do not paint or sculpt anything … but I love art,” she told OrilliaMatters. “It’s part of your soul. Everything around you is art. People just need to open up their eyes and recognize that.”

Originally from Sudbury, the soon-to-be-70-year-old Hager comes from a background in inside sales. She spent much of her career working for mining companies.

She said her current path began through making connections with others.

“You get tapped on the shoulder by somebody, you go for coffee, people ask you something,” she said. “I moved down here around 2002, and that’s when I kind of fell into doing not-for-profit work.”

Her background in business and sales has helped Orillia’s arts scene grow. Most arts programs and events in the city need funding, after all, and that’s where Hager shines.

She recently stepped down from her position as secretary to take a role in revenue development for ODAC.

“That’s what we need right now. We need the stability to be sustainable. We can’t depend on grants. You have to have a diversified revenue stream,” she said. “I’m the best one to do that because I have the most contacts.”

Her transition to non-profit work happened smoothly, and it continues to bring her great satisfaction.

“It’s given me that sense of satisfaction that, when I tell someone I can understand how (they’re) feeling, it’s because I’ve been there, and I can empathize with what they’re going through,” she said. “One of my favourite things at the food bank was until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, you have no right to criticize them.

“It’s always teaching and educating the public. That’s all these positions have always been. The public needs to know the reality of not-for-profits and vulnerable people, homeless people, and hungry people — and the arts people, too. They are trying to make a living as well.”

When Hager joined ODAC in 2014, “the board was very thin,” she said, but the organization now boasts an array of opportunities for local artists, thanks to the work of Hager and others.

ODAC hosts numerous art exhibitions for members, local and county art projects, public events, and more, on top of advocating for its members and other local artists.

One new program rolled out through ODAC is its Helping Elders with Arts (HeARTS) program, which provides seniors with the chance to learn a variety of art styles, art history, and enjoy physical activity on a regular basis.

With all her work helping the local arts scene thrive, Hager — who said she enjoys Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles — does not take much downtime for herself.

She also volunteers with St. James’ Anglican Church through its Sunday breakfast program, social justice committee, and community garden.

While she hopes to eventually take a bit of a step back from her responsibilities, Hager said she loves connecting with people.

“It’s nice meeting people. I love meeting people and developing the network that I have,” she said. “That’s been one of my big things: just getting to know people, building relationships, and then finding opportunities.”

Looking to the future, she hopes to see ODAC gain a full-time staff member and become a true “umbrella” organization that provides opportunities and advocacy for all local artists.

More about ODAC can be found here.

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