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Shifting audience tastes are dictating the future of art in Ottawa – Ottawa Citizen

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Alexandra Suda took over the top job at the National Gallery of Canada last year in time to see two major exhibitions challenge the notion of a blockbuster show. 

Gallery staff expected the year’s big attraction would be the summer exhibition of portraits by the famed post-Impressionist French master Paul Gauguin, the world’s first to focus on his portraiture. 

They weren’t sure what to expect with the fall exhibit, Àbadakone: Continuous Fire, which put the spotlight on contemporary Indigenous art from around the world. It continues until April 5.


Sasha Suda is the Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada.

Errol McGihon /

Postmedia

What happened surprised everyone. The Gauguin exhibit never did grab the public’s imagination in a big way, attracting 107,469 people during the summer, while Àbadakone is shaping up to be a hit, with close to 31,000 visitors during the first two months of the slower fall-winter season. Its opening night attracted 3,600 people, the largest attendance for any opening in the gallery’s history. So many people showed up on that November night that security had to stop letting them into the building. 

“What’s exciting and terrifying about that is we’re not quite sure what happened,” Suda said during an interview in her office, an airy space with a postcard-perfect view of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill. 


The artists from New Zealand’s Mato Aho Collective stand in front of their monumental woven installation titled “AKA, 2019.” Numerous artists from all over the world were on hand Wednesday (Nov. 6, 2019) at the National Gallery of Canada for the preview of Àbadakone: Continous Fire.

Julie Oliver /

Postmedia

“How we managed to have so many people that we had to shut the doors for capacity reasons still defies our comprehension. People don’t necessarily come for Indigenous art, and contemporary art is also something that is quite specific. There isn’t too much of a data set to tell us that this is what people want right now.”

The reaction to those exhibitions show that culture-consuming audiences and their expectations are changing as millennials come of age and the population diversifies. These conclusions are echoed in the findings of the first Culture Track report, a 2018 survey of cultural consumers in Canada, that shows allophones, those whose first language is neither English nor French, are more likely to attend a cultural event than anglophones or francophones, and millennials are the demographic most likely to participate monthly in a cultural activity such as visiting a music festival, concert, historic attraction, natural history or art museum or going out for a food and drink experience. 

In other words, if you believe the only people going to cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Canada and the National Arts Centre are old white people, think again. Canadians of all age groups and backgrounds are participating in cultural activities, and both institutions have been adapting to shifting audience tastes for more than a decade. 

At the gallery, which moved to its current location on Sussex Drive in 1988, more than 930,000 people visited the Moshe Safdie-designed building during the first year (attendance is measured during the fiscal year, ending April 1), the strongest year ever for attendance. The interest continued through the 1990s, with just over 600,000 people visiting in 1995-96, and more than 770,00 visitors the following year.

Between 1997 and 2014, though, the numbers dropped considerably. In 2004-05, close to 400,000 people visited, but nine years later, just 237,391 people went through the doors.


Cornelia Homburg (L), guest curator of the exhibition Gauguin Portraits, opening at gallery May 24 and Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief of Conseration of the National Gallery discuss Gaugin’s wood sculpture.

Jean Levac /

Postmedia News

In 2017-18, the slide was reversed as more than 385,000 people visited, despite the renovations that kept several galleries closed until June 2017. Many were checking out the new Canadian and Indigenous gallery, which integrated previously separate Canadian and Indigenous art into one permanent, comprehensive space. It launched June 15, 2017 — the first transformation of the gallery’s collections since the facility opened — in the lead-up to Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Attendance continued to grow in 2018-19, with 434,834 visitors, a 13 per cent increase that was attributed to the popularity of the special exhibitions mounted that year, including a summer show entitled Impressionist Treasures: The Ordrupgaard Collection. With 132,494 visitors, it was the best-attended summer exhibition since 2012’s Van Gogh: Up Close, which attracted more than 230,000 people. The 2018-19 year is also notable for the multimedia exhibition Anthropocene by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, a powerful perspective of human-altered landscapes that also included, for the first time at the National Gallery, augmented reality-enhanced installations and interactive films.

These attendance trends are mirrored around the world, and several institutions have responded by removing admission charges. In London, government-sponsored museums and art galleries have had free admission since 2001, a tactic that more than doubled attendance in the first decade. Washington, D.C. is filled with free museums, from the Smithsonians to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art.

At Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, where Suda worked before coming to Ottawa, a pilot project was introduced last year offering free memberships to people under 25, and a $35 annual membership for those over 25. In the first six months, they attracted 100,000 new members, 70,000 of them under the age of 25.

The recently renovated Ottawa Art Gallery also re-opened with free admission, along with later operating hours and free child care on certain days.


National Gallery.

Raven McCoy /

Post Media

Suda is watching these initiatives with interest. While there are no immediate plans to remove the admission at the National Gallery, she says it’s an idea that floats around once in a while, most recently during last year’s election campaign, when the Conservatives made it a last-minute part of their platform.

The National Gallery does have free admission on Thursday evenings, and it’s almost always a busy night. Other ideas to attract new visitors include programming that makes use of the public spaces in the building, and performance-based events such as the Jan. 25 companion concert to the Beautiful Monsters exhibit of prints and drawings. The concert features the Ottawa Baroque Consort with storytelling by actor/host David Brennan.

Hired at the age of 38, Suda is the youngest National Gallery director in a century, and the first female boss in two decades. Some key things have already changed in her nine months in the position, the most evident of which is the relocation of the front desk from the main entrance, up the ramp to the Great Hall. Now when you enter the building, the first thing you see is an installation, the Sami Architectural Library, by Norway’s Joar Nango, which is part of the Àbadakone exhibit. 

“That was my idea but it was really to make room for an art experience upon crossing the threshold,” said Suda, who’s now 39. “It changes the dynamic from the authoritative transaction to an engagement in a conversation. I see a lot of people stop and wonder what’s going on. That’s what we hope to do in that space from here on out — offer an experience that asks that question: What is art to you?”

It also makes the gallery more accessible in that you can see art in the public spaces without having to buy a ticket. 

As for the Gauguin exhibit, one of the lessons learned by Suda and gallery staff was that people would have liked to see the exhibit delve deeper into the social context of his work, particularly during his time in French Polynesia. He was not only a privileged colonialist but also a pedophile who infected several child brides with syphilis. 

“We focused on the scholarly thesis of the show, and what we found was that people were really interested in that, but they were also, like, “Wait a second, what about these issues of colonialism and gender dynamics? Why aren’t you talking about that in the show?’” Suda said. 

“For me, the learning there was that people are really engaged. They care about art, and they care about 19th-century painters so they’ll come, but they expect us to engage with the work in a way that engages with the present. I think it surprised us a little bit but the extent that people were able to articulate the issue was also, I thought, really refreshing.” 


Eleng Luluan, from the Rukai Nation in Taiwan, poses in front of her installation made from styrofoam and wrapping bags entitled “Between Dreams.”

Julie Oliver /

Postmedia

On the other hand, the gallery is considered a world leader in the presentation of Indigenous art, and the current exhibit, Àbadakone, does not shy away from works that address issues such as cultural oppression, residential schools, and loss of land and language. It’s the second exhibition in a series that started with 2013’s Sakahàn, a groundbreaking exhibit in that it had a global perspective. 

“Nobody was really doing the global thinking at this scale six years ago,” Suda said. “I think we’re going to continue building that momentum because there’s real leadership within the organization, and a great ability to work with Indigenous artists and communities with their protocols, and make this a space that’s not just ours.” 

The gallery is also highly regarded for its contemporary art and new-media collection, which includes digital and video art such as Christian Marclay’s masterpiece, The Clock, a 24-hour video installation. 

One of the most recent contemporary acquisitions is More Sweetly Play The Dance, an eight-channel, high-definition video installation with a 15-minute run time, by the renowned South African multi-disciplinary artist William Kentridge. It’s currently on display at the gallery for the first time. 

The installation is in a room of its own, consisting of seven floor-to-ceiling horizontal video screens set up in a semi-circle around the viewer, creating an immersive experience. The film depicts a procession, set to a lively soundtrack of South African music with figures that reflect the often-troubled history of South Africa. 

“For me, it seems very relevant today when you think about the refugee crisis in different parts of the world,” said Josée Drouin-Brisebois, the gallery’s senior curator of contemporary art. “It’s outside our comfort zone. He also talks a lot about the importance of people walking, and that the idea of the march is still important. That is very relevant — we’re still a people that walks, both as a mode of locomotion and a form of expression.” 

Suda sees it as a great example of a piece that brings viewers into the artistic experience in a different way. 

“The more immersive the experience can be, and the more we think about our audience and the context in which we live, and develop a program that has a diverse set of offerings, the more generous welcome we’re going to extend to a larger community,” she said. “What we hope is that there’s something for everyone, not necessarily all the time but that over the course of time, the program has a rhythm that’s inclusive and diverse.” 

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

READ: The changing face of art: How Canada’s arts institutions stay relevant in the digital age

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Cape Breton art festival shining bright – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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SYDNEY, N.S. —

This year’s Lumière festival will shine an even brighter light on contemporary art.

Normally a one-night event featuring dozens of installations throughout downtown Sydney, the current pandemic-related restrictions led organizers to stretch the event over two weeks, from Sept. 12-26.

Suzi Oram-Aylward

 

And Suzi Oram-Aylward believes that’s better for her fellow artists and audiences.

“The online component has opened up Lumière to the rest of the island. Before the core of it was in Sydney — it was presented in Sydney and therefore a lot of the artists that presented were from that core. This year it’s really amazing to see all of the artists and the scope of it, it’s really opened it up for a lot of really brilliant people to be able to participate in a way that they really haven’t been able to before,” said Oram-Aylward, who will be taking part in the festival for the third time.

“I think that in previous years you had the one night to get out and explore and it led to this sense of community engagement and it felt really nice, but on the other side of that it meant that a lot of the events were at one side of the city and others were at the other side, so in some cases, people had to pick and choose which events they got to choose and participate in. One of the good things about the way things are set up this year is the online aspect of it and the way that it’s spread out over the span of two weeks really allows you to participate in all of it and it makes it more accessible in that way.”

Greg Davies, chair of the Lumière Arts Festival Association, agrees.

Greg Davies
Greg Davies

An accomplished artist and curator of the Cape Breton University Art Gallery, he said the two-week format and ability to deliver exhibits online will help showcase a significant number of local artists and provide a quality experience for the public and artists.

He’s particularly excited that people will have ample time to savour each piece of art, rather than gulp them all down in a few hours.

“If you’re looking at it from the perspective of a curator or an artist, there are some disadvantages to it as a one-night event. The disadvantage is that while it becomes a public spectacle to have a one-night event: There’s a lot of energy and a buzz, but it’s rather like a very large art opening, and if you know something about exhibition openings, they can be a lot of fun but they’re also one of the worst ways to see or experience art,” he said. “It’s very hard in that kind of environment to actually have the time to reflect upon the work, and if the work has any sort of subtlety to it, if it’s meant to be appreciated in a kind of quiet environment — and a lot of art is; not all of it, but a lot is — then it makes it very difficult to connect with the artwork as a viewer in the way that the artist had perhaps hoped you would. It’s like a Catch-22 because the spectacle side of it is important to the community as well — it brings people together and it creates a buzz that’s very fulfilling. If you remove that, or you lose that aspect of it, but you may gain on the sort of one-to-one experience with art. What we’re trying to do is try to see if we can find a way to balance those two.”

This is one of the paintings Suzi Oram-Aylward will feature in her Lumière project The Future is Unwritten. CONTRIBUTED
This is one of the paintings Suzi Oram-Aylward will feature in her Lumière project The Future is Unwritten. CONTRIBUTED

 

Oram-Aylward, whose previous works were typically composed of items like plastic water bottles and other found or discarded objects, has even taken a different approach for this Lumière.

A room-sized miniature landscape made of papier-mache, chicken wire and paintings, she describes her project, The Future is Unwritten, as a surreal rollercoaster ride depicting two possible futures. It will be filmed in her attic this weekend and broadcast online Monday at 7 p.m.

“It’s been really fun and messy. I’m really nervous and excited to show it. It’s different than anything I’ve ever done,” she said. “There’s definitely an apocalyptic side to it and then a much brighter side — it really depends on what ways it’s viewed. And then there’s a train track built on it that will take you on an adventure.”


Lumière Arts Festival Schedule

 

 

 

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The healing power of art – Coast Reporter

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The other day, while gossiping with a friend, she used the phrase “emotional palette” in a description of her general state of mind. 

It’s a cool metaphor – one that is compellingly evocative. And one that can help us better visualize and describe the state of our mood. Think about having the blues. Or a rosy disposition. Or, heaven forfend, be in a black state of mind. White with rage. 

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I’m not surprised about the ubiquity and utility of this metaphor, because colour is everywhere and we are primarily visual creatures. 

We are also, crucially, hearing animals. Sound (and as we shall see, music) is a vital facet of our sensory experience. 

And it is for these reasons that art – in the doing as well as in the observing – has such a deep connection to and effect on our well-being. 

I first began to wonder about the power of art when I was 10. We lived in London, and every weekend I’d take the tube to one of the many museums and galleries in that great city. What struck me was the sense of peace and reverence evident on the faces of the adults around me. Ten-year-old boys did not frequently experience that from grown-ups. 

In my own, private life, my greatest sense of self and inner harmony came when I played my guitar. Still does. Some musicians call that state the “zone.” 

It was years later, as a friend studied and then practiced art/music therapy for kids, that I made a few connections. 

When I asked why this (sometimes controversial) therapy had such a positive effect, she hypothesized that experiencing art ignored the rational aspect of the mind and instead directly engaged deeper, more fundamental processes. 

More recently, when I was on the board of the Arrowhead Clubhouse Society, by far the most frequent budgetary request from members was for art programming. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. 

So, you ask: What’s going on inside the brain? There is a lot of very detailed, arcane work out there, but in general there are three broad ideas that are quite sufficient for a general understanding. 

First, studies have shown that experiencing/doing art increases blood flow in the medial prefrontal cortex. This is a major reward centre of the brain, and increased activity there has led to improvements in mood among folks with eating disorders, addictive behaviours, and mood disorders. 

The second observed effect is a lowering of the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress as well as the so-called fight-or-flight state. We can all do with less stress, and it seems like art is a way to achieve that. 

The third brain state is one that leads – as I mentioned above – to the “zone” or “flow” state. When we are there, we lose ourselves, are in the moment and utterly present. We are relaxed yet fully attentive, and deeply attuned to our sense of pleasure. There is interesting neurophysiology to explain this, but for today I think that would ruin the fun. 

I should add, with emphasis, that one need not have huge talent or skills to achieve the benefits mentioned above while doing art. Indeed, in most of the research, just doodling was sufficient. 

So, find a pencil and paper and go looking for your zone.

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Final Uptown Open Street Showcases Edible Art – country94.ca

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A mouthwatering example of chef Kimberly Steele’s cake creations (Credit: Sarah Tariq)

Cobalt Art Gallery is hosting its first exhibition since the pandemic, Cobalt Art Gallery Presents: Women In the Arts, this Saturday.

Gallery Director Sarah Tariq said they are collaborating with businesses on Prince William Street, including The Art Warehouse and East Coast Bistro, to hold the event.

“We just wanted to appreciate the fact that there are so many amazing women uptown doing cool things,” said Tariq, adding the gallery wanted to take the opportunity of the final Prince William Open Street to create space and have as many people attend while maintaining social distancing.

The exhibition will feature local artists Leanne Macdonald’s pottery, Pamela Pierce’s visual art pieces, some of Tariq’s watercolours and East Coast Bistro chef and owner Kimberley Steele’s food creations.

“She’s going to be doing a feature cake for the event and it’s going to be on display and then at some point probably later in the day, we’ll cut into it and serve it for everyone,” she said.  Steele will also make croissants, breads and other to-go pastries.

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Macdonald is Cobalt Gallery’s newest artist and was originally supposed to join in March, but the pandemic put plans on hold.  Women in the Arts will be her first show.

“We wanted to have the show to open for her, to bring her into the gallery, to introduce her to everyone and then we decided to toss in a few more awesome ladies,” Tariq explained.  “Leanne does a lot of pottery based off of the earth, she very much draws from like Earth textures, she doesn’t do anything perfectly smooth finished.”

Cobalt Art Gallery Presents: Women In the Arts will held Saturday at 12 PM to 5 PM.

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