Alexandra Badzak wins prestigious award for leadership of Ottawa Art Gallery expansion

Annual Ottawa Arts Council awards presentation recognizes contributions to Ottawa's artistic community
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An opera singer, a photographer, a marketing agency and a well-respected arts leader were among the individuals honoured at the Ottawa Arts Council’s awards ceremony — the one night a year when the creative community comes together to formally celebrate artistic excellence and the impact it has on enriching the cultural landscape of Ottawa.

This year, it was also the final awards ceremony for Peter Honeywell in his long-time role as executive director of the OAC. He's retiring next month.

As well, the special night coincided with the birthday of Ottawa Art Gallery director and chief executive Alexandra Badzak. The entire room sang "Happy Birthday" to her after she received the Victor Tolgesy Arts Award and a cash prize of $5,000 from Ottawa Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas.

While being fêted, Badzak sat smiling and blushing in the front row, joined by husband Armin Badzak and OAG board chair Victor Duret and board secretary Barbara Uteck. Also present was the neighbourhood's city councillor, Mathieu Fleury, along with local artists, arts administrators, supporters and sponsors, and OAC board members, including its chair, Julia Johnston.

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From left, Ottawa Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas presented the Victor Tolgesy Arts Award to Alexandra Badzak, the CEO and director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Badzak led the charge on one of the greatest success stories in recent years for the local arts community: the expansion of the gallery in downtown Ottawa. It’s been barely reopen a year but already it has welcomed 350,000 visitors. Its popularity also earned the gallery an Ottawa Tourism award less than two weeks ago.

Badzak is an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and has been involved on many boards and committees, including the Downtown Rideau BIA, former board chair of the Ottawa Museum Network and member of the National Historic Sites Alliance of Ontario.

Badzak thanked her colleagues, her board of directors, the gallery’s loyal donors and sponsors, her husband, and the visual artists. “It’s nice to finally have a space that’s worthy of your talent,” she told them in the Ottawa Art Gallery's Alma Duncan Salon, where the event was held for its second year.

“For those of us who have dedicated our lives to arts and culture, we know that we take this path because we believe that the arts matter. They provide a different way of understanding the world, a different lens."

She dished out this advice to emerging arts leaders: “Be bold, take risks, take your wins but own those moments of failure. Face them, hold them, glean what you can from them — and then move on, because what you do matters. It’s important work.”

The Victor Tolgesy Arts Award, created in 1987 by the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Arts Council in honour of the late artist recognizes the accomplishments of residents who have contributed substantially to enriching cultural life in Ottawa. The award is a bronze casting, special-edition version of Tolgesy's 1963 sculpture, entitled "Seed and Flower", provided by the City of Ottawa. The cash award is provided by the OAC.

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Alexandra Badzak, CEO and director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, delivers her acceptance speech after receiving the Victor Tolgesy Arts Award at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

This year’s awards ceremony was emceed by Nicole Milne, a board member with the Ottawa Arts Council and director of marketing and development for the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC).

Mann Lawyers partner Heather Austin-Skaret was back with GGFL Chartered Professional Accountants partner Deborah Bourchier to present the mid-emerging artist award to soprano Meghan Lindsay. The two other finalists were Renata Soutter, co-founder of Propeller Dance, and multidisciplinary artist Christos Pantieras.

“We love art,” Austin-Skaret said on behalf of her firm while taking a moment to plug the upcoming annual Lawyers’ Play fundraiser for the GCTC. One of her firm's partners, Ted Mann, is a regular performer in it. Bourchier singled out the arts as one of the ways her firm likes to give back to the community. She gave a brief shout out to associate partner Perry Christian, who was seated in the audience. He’s been a volunteer board member for more than 20 years with Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra.

The presentation of the RBC Emerging Artist award was a swan song of sorts for Mike Haley, who’s retiring at the end of the month from his banking career of 35-plus years. He and RBC regional vice president Mike Belliveau presented the award to photo-based artist Olivia Johnston. She was a finalist along with filmmaker Stephen R. Coleman and multidisciplinary artist Brendan A. de Montigny.

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Mid-emerging artist award winner Meghan Lindsay, centre, with award sponsors Heather Austin-Skaret, left, from Mann Lawyers, and Deborah Bourchier from GGFL Chartered Professional Accountants. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, RBC regional vice president Mike Belliveau, left, with RBC Emerging Artist Award recipient Olivia Johnston and Mike Haley, also with RBC. Photo by Caroline Phillips

This year’s Business and the Arts Recognition Award went to Vector Media, located in Wellington West, for their patronage, volunteerism and corporate sponsorship of the GCTC. 

Claire Amirault received the Young Artist Award while theatre director and playwright Megan Piercey Monafu landed the Corel Endowment Fund for the Arts Award. Gary Franks was the recipient of the Project X, Photography Fund to promote and foster photographic excellence in Ottawa.

Since launching its awards program in 1988, the Ottawa Arts Council has recognized 200 artists and arts supporters and has awarded more than $320,000. Disciplines include visual arts, theatre, music, dance, film, and written and spoken word. Nominations and applications are reviewed by jury members, who collectively spend about 180 hours assessing the candidates.

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From left, Ottawa Arts Council board members Stephanie Chong, Beverly Ford, Julia Johnston and Georgette Houle at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Arts Council development officer Sharon Diamond with executive director Peter Honeywell and board member Nicole Milne at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa Arts Council board member and artist Andrew Morrow with his wife, Sheila Aitken-Morrow, at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Art Gallery board chair and retired KPMG partner Victor Duret with Alexandra Badzak and her husband, Armin Badzak, and Ottawa Art Gallery board secretary Barbara Uteck. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Mid-Career Artist Award finalist Christos Pantieras with his mother, Litsa Pantieras, and brother Tony Pantieras (who also has artistic talent — he's a fantastic bouzouki player. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Mid-Career Artist Award finalist Renata Soutter with arts and non-profit management specialist Victoria Steele at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Young Artist Award winner Claire Amirault with her dad, Paul Amirault, at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Jonathan Hobin, creative director for the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO) with RBC Emerging Artist Award recipient and SPAO instructor Olivia Johnston at this year's Ottawa Arts Council Awards Presentation, held Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca