Art the great escapePublished on September 29, 2019

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Growing up on the Prairies in Regina, Alexandra Badzak, current Director and CEO of the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) dreamt of being either an artist or a forest ranger.

Tree-filled northern Saskatchewan allowed her to connect with nature on a spiritual level, and her creative-filled household nurtured her artistic side. As a child, she was often found under the dining room table doodling and drawing. Her artistic resolve guided her in educational pursuits and ultimately to her successful role at the helm of the OAG.

Graduating high school in 1991, she was accepted at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver and went on to study at the University of Saskatchewan receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters of Continuing Education. She also completed a ceramics program in Prince Albert.

While working in Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery as the Head of Public and Professional Programs, she rose through the ranks as a gallery educator, programs facilitator and curator while expanding innovative programs during her ten years there.

It was her artistic nature that led her to the position of the Director and CEO of the OAG, and since 2010 she has successfully led its growth, with its expansion culminating as her most exciting and gratifying achievement.

Alexandra has received numerous awards while in Ottawa, including the 2019 Victor Tolgesy Arts Leadership Award for contributing to enriching the cultural life in Ottawa, and Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Medal in 2018 recognizing leadership in the arts across Canada. In addition, the OAG won the 2019 Top New Visitor Experience Award from Ottawa Tourism. Alexandra is presently a member of the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization, and on the Arts and Heritage Steering Committee to renew the Ottawa 20/20 Arts and Heritage Plan.

She and her husband, Armin, live in the ByWard Market and believe Ottawa is a well-kept secret as many people in Western Canada have no idea what a wonderful city it is with its architecture, beautiful green landscape, accessibility and rich history.

Has your vision of creating the OAG as a cultural and artistic hub been realized? The best laid plans are just plans, but when we opened the doors people came in great numbers. We wanted to make this gallery something that Ottawa embraced so the public felt this was their space. What was most gratifying was the interconnectivity, the diversity, honest comments and respect for the arts.

We were successful beyond what we had anticipated, and attendance numbers have just kept growing. The OAG is just hitting its stride. We are interested in how a gallery in the 21st century functions, not just as space for art, but a space for people and the dialogs within the city. Its future possibilities are limitless.

What does art mean to you? Art is another language and way of understanding and interacting with the world around us. The OAG is a privileged space, not an elitist space. It’s one that we need to hold onto because it is rare and helps us understand the world better. It is not necessarily mediated by politics or the media. It allows us to have conversations about the world around us. It is my favorite place to escape as it changes everyday and that is why I love being here.

Are you yourself an art collector? It is a complicated question because I am, and I am not. I certainly do buy art, but I don’t do it aggressively for the reasons of ethics. I do not want to be in a situation where I am favoring or collecting a particular artist and that artist is having a show here. That would be perceived as a conflict of interest, so I am not a voracious collector because of that.

Do you have a favorite section? All the spaces offer different experiences. The Firestone space is more a domestic space as it is a domestic collection and is part of the Canadian canon and identity. People connect with that, and it’s often an entry point into art as they are familiar with the Group of Seven. That then becomes a launching point for visitors to go to our other floors that house more contemporary works, or where they can connect with art on an intimate level. Every space for me is special and has something for everyone’s taste.

Vera Cody

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