Ottawa Art Gallery + JACKSON
The Heart of the Arts
THE OTTAWA ART GALLERY (OAG)’s recent expansion has by all indicators been a sweeping success. The new location opened its doors on April 28th, 2018 and at time of publication has had over 200,000 visitors—twice the number anticipated.
Coinciding with the refresh of the Ottawa core, the reconstruction of Rideau Street and the Rideau Centre, the gallery expansion is a validation of Ottawa as a vital and growing community. “We realized early on that we needed a larger space, a space to really tell Ottawa’s story,” says Alexandra Badzak, the director and chief executive officer of the OAG. “We have great national institutions, but the time had come for us to start investing in Ottawa’s own institutions.
The OAG in many ways is one of the forerunners of that. We’re starting to see the confidence now; Ottawa is big enough, we have the densification, that the city can contain not only the national institutions but also local institutions.”
At the heart of this success story are two women: Badzak and Caroline Gosselin, a restauranteur who co-founded the gallery’s restaurant Jackson with executive chef John Leung. Together, the gallery and the restaurant create a space for artists looking for inspiration, visitors taking a day to relax, and for everyone to feel at home and welcome. “Spaces like an art gallery are unique in society,” says Badzak. “It’s about creating space for people to take time for themselves and understand how they are connected in a more global or universal sense, just as the restaurant is more than just the food.”
This idea of self-care runs throughout the project, and the restaurant’s ethos ties in to that as well. Jackson, named for the Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson, has largely plant-based offerings and sources organically and sustainably whenever it can. “If you take care of yourself, you have the capacity to take care of many,” Gosselin reflects.
Having women leaders in this space has opened it up to a level of inclusivity that really demonstrates how far we have come in society. “In years past, it’s always felt like you’re doing it alone, you don’t really have any other women with you, which meant that you always had to negotiate with men,” says Gosselin. “It feels softer now: there’s an understanding now about the responsibilities you might have at home.”
Leadership is not just bravado; it can be thoughtful and strong at the same time. Things can be done in a collaborative fashion and that doesn’t take anything away.
“The EQ factor—the emotional quotient—is an emerging management quality that recognizes that leadership comes in different formats,” Badzak says. “Leadership is not just bravado; it can be thoughtful and strong at the same time. Things can be done in a collaborative fashion and that doesn’t take anything away.”
“There has to be that openness to working with different people, at different times in their life as well,” Gosselin goes on to say. “I think there’s more of an understanding in business that we will be going at different speeds and it just comes to adapting to that.”
Both women attribute the success of the gallery and restaurant to that sense of inclusion. Both industries are led by a young demographic and making sure to both empower and listen to their employees has kept them relevant. “Organizations are constantly growing and shifting,” says Badzak. “If you’re comfortable with that, then you can bring it to success, but you can never rest on your laurels.”
After 30 years, the OAG has been reinvented as a cultural hub within Ottawa, creating both the physical and mental space for patrons and artists alike to be inspired. “Often galleries are built as an island to themselves, but there’s a new trend for galleries and cultural destinations that puts them in the heart of the city with more densified programs and partnership,”
Badzak explains. “It’s the idea of approaching it as a P3—a public-private partnership—with a hotel and a condo unit, and a connection to the University of Ottawa’s theatre department. We also hook up to the Arts Court building, which houses over 25 arts organizations in it. This idea of really bringing it all together—it’s a full city block that’s dedicated to the arts and this real sense of a cultural hub.”
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