An expanded Arts Court and a new Ottawa Art Gallery are all in a fun day at committee at City Hall

I made a special trip to City Hall today to represent Artengine at the Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee. I got my 5 minutes, alongside a number of other fantastic people in the cultural sector, to speak to a proposal heading to council for the relocation of The Ottawa Art Gallery and the re-development of Arts Court. (The link for the full report is at the end of this post).

In the end, a motion was passed at the committee level, which will hopefully then be approved at council next week, which directs city staff to create and disseminate an Request For Proposals for the development of a Public Private Partnership at the Waller and Daly location behind Arts Court. Ideally, The Ottawa Art Gallery will be relocated to Landsdowne; the non-heritage parts of the building would be torn down and rebuilt; new presentation facilities would be built behind the current Arts Court facility on Waller, and a private development/tower of some kind would be built on the corner. You can read about how all of this looks in the proposal, but in general the feeling from the many groups involved is that this a huge step forward.

Of course, it is a bit bitter sweet, as part of this going forward meant the concert hall concept was pushed two steps back. The $12 million gather for that project is going to be re-directed to this development, and although members of the committee have sought to ensure some kind of good intentions to the Friends of the Concert Hall group, it does feel a bit like a Tanya Harding here. So before you read my over embellished remarks about the city’s cultural landscape let’s poor out a liquor at 150 Elgin and hum a little Chopin as we pray for resurrection.

Over the last few decades, the development of the cultural landscape of Ottawa has been impressive. Dynamic arts organizations like SAW Gallery and SAW Video where founded as collectives and have matured into local institutions. They have gained recognition for their cutting edge production and programming from cultural communities across the country.
Nowhere however, has the change been more evident than in the media arts. Groups like Artengine where almost entirely virtual only 5 years ago, and now our organization sits at the crossroads of the regions creative and research communities, connecting artists and technologists on a weekly basis, from the incubation stage right through to the launch of their projects.

The growth of Artengine has been driven by strong and diverse collaborations across many artistic disciplines, and what is most exciting about the foundation outlined for the Arts Court redevelopment is how it continues to foster these collaborations amongst the many groups in the facility.

The atrium concept creates an important increase in visibility and access to the dynamic production and programming organizations while also supporting their unique identities. The atrium builds on one of the most concrete strengths of the Arts Court facility – a distributed model of production and presentation organizations that creates a diverse range of programming. This strength, the Arts Court as a cultural incubator, is made more public by the atrium concept. Organizations become more accessible, and the public has the opportunity to see the rich diversity active in the building. Cross-pollination begins to happen not only at the organizational level, but at the audience level where it is perhaps most important.

The concentration of the media arts groups into a hub will allow for more dynamic flow of audience and resources. Although each of the media arts production organizations has a unique vision at its core, the overlap at the edges is a unique and fruitful place. This simple connection in space will facilitate greater collaborations amongst the organizations, but also increased access for artists to their diverse resources.

The media arts hub, coupled with a small screening and presentation space, will also add a key element to the cultural landscape. As the healthy digital media and informational technology sector continues to attract new professional residents to the city, cultural activity that reflects a new generation of audiences, audiences that have never known a life without computers, is needed to round out the quality of place offered here in the region. A flagship space for media arts does this.

And most of all a new performing arts space that reflects the changing nature of presentation.

If we look at the flagship municipal performing arts facilities in other cities we know we are on the right track. Montréal, the countries cultural trailblazer, has had Usine C for many years, while Quebec City has Recto-Verso and Vancouver the Scotiabank Dance Center. All of these facilities are driven by a modular and multi-use model which makes them unique in their city. The development of a new performing arts facility in Arts Court should not only respond to the needs of the existing community, but drive it forward with a unique vision of the future.

The Arts Court re-development shows this potential. It is key to unlocking another layer of excellence in cultural production here, and as the city provides a foundation that looks to the future, the organizations housed in it will fill that future with a rich cultural landscape grounded in the heart of the city. With a new convention center on the horizon, the Arts Court development becomes an excellent companion to this hub of activity. Home-grown cutting edge cultural production and presentation in the backyard of this facility puts the cities best foot forward to a large audience. The re-development of Arts Court will succeed not only at showcasing Ottawa to itself, but also to the national and international audiences that come to visit the nations capital. It is a significant step towards standing tall and raising our head above the shadow of the Peace Tower.

Here is the link to the document for your info:

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