Ottawa Arts Council's Peter Honeywell honoured for dedication, passion and advocacy for the arts

Outgoing executive director retires this month after 28 years at local organization
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Peter Honeywell, one of our city’s most effective and astute advocates for the arts, was fêted Wednesday by friends and colleagues during a retirement party held for the long-time executive director of the Ottawa Arts Council.

The man of the hour was hosted inside what has become one of his legacies — the gorgeous new Ottawa Art Gallery building at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge. He had lobbied hard for decades, with many others, for the OAG expansion and Arts Court redevelopment project that reached completion last year.

Later this month, Honeywell is bringing the curtain down on his 28-year career at the OAC, a non-profit, membership-based organization dedicated to encouraging and developing an appreciation for the arts in Ottawa.

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From left, Ed Kwan, a.k.a. China Doll, with Peter Honeywell and Julia Johnston, a real estate professional with RE/MAX and board chair of the Ottawa Arts Council, at the retirement party for Honeywell, held Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

His time with the organization has added up to 10,000 days.

“I looked at that number and I thought, ‘It’s time to go’,” joked Honeywell, who’s hoping to spend more time gardening, cooking, travelling and working with his power tools.

Honeywell told OBJ.social he “couldn’t be happier” about his successor, Nicole Milne, who’s been vice-chair of the OAC board. She's worked for the past four years in marketing and development for The GCTC, a well-known Ottawa professional theatre company, and was formerly a communications advisor for the National Arts Centre.

Milne, who originally hails from Winnipeg, is joining an organization that is financially solid and stable.

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Peter Honeywell, long-time executive director of the Ottawa Arts Council, delivers remarks at his retirement party, held at the Ottawa Art Gallery on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Peter Honeywell, who is stepping down this month as long-time executive director of the Ottawa Arts Council, is seen at his retirement party with his successor, Nicole Milne. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Tributes included a fun and kitschy performance by Ed Kwan, who famously hosts karaoke nights in drag as "China Doll", at Shanghai Restaurant. Honeywell also scored a framed letter of appreciation from Mayor Jim Watson.

"I don’t think we’d be standing here in this building if not for Peter’s persistence, his passion and his effective way of getting to politicians."

“There are lots of ways to lobby. You can yell and scream and have a bit of a tantrum, or you can do the quiet, thoughtful behind-the-scenes work that Peter is probably not well known for because it was quiet and behind the scenes.”

To honour Honeywell and his dedication to the arts, the OAC has named one of the annual awards that it gives out to local artists after him. As well, a legacy fund has been established in his name through the Ottawa Community Foundation.

In his remarks, Honeywell emphasized the benefits of teamwork.

“None of us achieve in isolation,” he told his audience. “The successes that we’ve enjoyed have been the result of our mutual cooperation and collaboration. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside colleagues who understand how to bring out the best in each other.”

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Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell, right, was given a framed letter of appreciation from Mayor Jim Watson thanking him for his dedication, passion and effective arts advocacy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ed Kwan, a.k.a. China Doll, performs Etta James's At Last — among other catchy numbers — in honour of Peter Honeywell at his retirement party, held at the Ottawa Art Gallery on Thursday, June 12, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The audience — which included such prominent businesswomen as Sheila Whyte and Tracey Clark — heard how, for nearly three decades, Honeywell has been an integral part of the most important decisions and efforts involving Ottawa’s cultural community.

“His ability to immediately get at the heart of the matter and find a unique perspective on it and speak about it with conviction to a multitude of people — that is cultural diplomacy at its very highest,” said Alexandra Badzak, director and chief executive of the Ottawa Art Gallery, during her tribute to her friend and “kindred spirit."

The pair worked closely and successfully together on lobbying the municipal and provincial governments to create more gallery space and a better multi-use arts facility in the downtown core.

“Being an executive director is sometimes a lonely job. You were always there for me, as I know you were there for so many people in this room,” she told him from the podium. “You’re the guy who made so many of us shine, and now this night is for you.”

She asked Honeywell to stand and take a bow. He did, graciously.

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From left, Alexandra Badzak, director and CEO of the Ottawa Art Gallery, with Peter Honeywell and Kelly Neall, right, managing director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa businesswoman Sheila Whyte, owner of catering company Thyme & Again, and her husband Clayton Kennedy at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Karen Munro-Caple with Ottawa businesswoman Tracey Clark, president and CEO of Bridgehead Coffee, at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The room also heard from media arts consultant Penny McCann, via video because she was out of town, and from consultant Maria DeFalco, who reminded everyone of how far the arts community has come since Honeywell got involved. 

Forty years ago, there was no home for the arts, DeFalco said.

“Ottawa’s professional scene was both homeless and penniless. If you graduated, like thousands did annually with a degree in music, theatre or visual arts from either Carleton of the University of Ottawa, you literally stepped off campus and fell into a cultural abyss.

“I know because I was one of those grads in 1980,” added DeFalco before quietly slipping in this age-conscious quip: “Don’t do the math.”

A student doesn’t just invest all that time and money into an arts degree and say: “Well, that was fun; time to get a real job now,” said DeFalco.

“Indeed, there was a dire need for municipal ownership of the arts. A strong collective message needed to be sent to City Hall that artists are an integral part of the city and that our social and economic impacts are substantial and, as such, we matter.

“Or, as the Ontario Arts Council puts it: people make art, art makes cities.”

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Maria DeFalco poses with her former boss, Joe O'Brien, at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell, held Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, well-known visual artist Jerry Grey with arts patron Barbara McInnes and Catherine Lindquist, executive director at Capital Heritage Connexion (formerly Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa) at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Arts Council board members Stefani Truant, associate artistic administrator with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Nicole Milne — who's been hired as the OAC's new executive director — and Frena Hailekiros at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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John Goldsmith, retired from the Canada Council for the Arts, with Lilly Koltun, who's just ended her nine years of serving on the board of the Ottawa Art Gallery, at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Peggy DuCharme, executive director of the Downtown Rideau B.I.A., with Nordstrom manager Cheryl Sinko  at the retirement party for Ottawa Arts Council executive director Peter Honeywell. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca