Ottawa Art Gallery kicks off online art auction with virtual VIP dinner parties

Annual fundraiser assists non-profit organization in offering free educational programs, tours, events and admission to Ottawa's municipal art gallery and cultural hub
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Ottawa Art Gallery CEO and director Alexandra Badzak, bottom left, and emerging artist Laurena Finéus, bottom right, one of the 2020 Critic's Choice winners, dropped into a series of virtual dinner parties during the official launch of the OAG's Give to Get Art online art auction on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
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Whether you're in desperate need of a better background for your Zoom calls or wish to transform your blank walls into conversation starters, you have until Friday to submit your bids on new and original artwork available through the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Give to Get Art fundraiser.

The local arts organization is featuring 56 pieces of art that include paintings, photographs, mixed-media art, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, prints and jewellery. The works have been donated by emerging and established artists from the region.

The OAG has got fundraising down to a fine art when it comes to its popular auction, an annual event that normally attracts hundreds of art lovers and collectors for a night of silent auction bidding, combined with food, drinks and socializing. Who doesn’t have a bidding war story or two to share, such as that sneaky competitor who hovered over the auction sheet for too long and took for-ev-er to write down their bid as the final seconds ticked down.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant the OAG had to use its imagination in how to hold its event this year. Luckily, creativity is what Ottawa's municipal gallery does best.

The OAG has been running a two-week-long Give to Get Art exhibition at its 50 Mackenzie King Bridge location. Purchasers of a $35 ticket can participate in the online auction, which got off to an exciting start during Saturday night’s official launch. 

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“Zwazo Manjé Korosol'' by artist Laurena Finéus is based on the musical history of Haiti and its diverse folklore tales. The painting is one of 56 artworks included in the Give to Get Art auction.

Fifty per cent of each sale goes back to the artist while the remaining half goes to the OAG to help with its free educational programs, tours, events and admission. Supporters heard how OAG is working with different community groups, such as BEING studio, which supports artists with developmental disabilities. It's also collaborating with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre on a program that uses the visual arts as a wellness tool in mental health. 

“We all know the COVID pandemic has hit many sectors hard, including the cultural sector,” Alexandra Badzak, CEO and director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, said in her video message to thank patrons for their support of the gallery and artists, during Saturday night's VIP auction launch.

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Alexandra Badzak, CEO and director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, thanked supporters of the OAG and artists during Saturday's VIP launch of the gallery's Give to Get Art auction, which runs until 5 p.m. Friday, December 18, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

An integral part of most fundraisers is social interaction. Several members of the OAG board hosted virtual dinner parties that evening. A total of 74 dinners were prepared by My Catering, which is the new in-house caterer for the art gallery. The four-course meals included drinks from Bar From Afar and Dominion City Brewing Co. Participants also had access to early bidding.

Badzak dropped into the parties, via Zoom, to meet the guests and introduce them to Laurena Finéus, one of the five 2020 Critic's Choice winners and a graduate of uOttawa's fine arts program. She called Finéus an “extraordinary” artist and the youngest to be recognized as a Critic's Choice. Badzak also described her sizeable painting as stunning.

"You're very much drawn into it," she added.

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Laurena Finéus, seen during the virtual VIP launch of the Ottawa Art Gallery's online auction, was one of five 2020 Give to Get Art Critic's Choice winners.

For their first stop, Badzak and Finéus visited Ottawa Art Gallery board secretary Barbara Uteck and her guests, all of whom were connected through Zoom, as well.

Uteck had already gone to view the Give to Get Art exhibit in person at the gallery. She described the experience of seeing the new pieces as thrilling and uplifting.

“It was a feast for the eyes and for the soul,” said Uteck, whose husband, Graham Fraser, was seated next to her. Their guests included John Goldsmith, who’s retired from Canada Council for the Arts.

Hanging on a wall behind Uteck was a portrait, Back from Kandahar, by Ottawa artist Karen Bailey, who was formerly in the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Bailey has a painting in the 2020 Give to Get Art auction.

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Ottawa Art Gallery board secretary Barbara Uteck, with husband Graham Fraser, gives guests a closer look at a pair of earrings she bought at a previous OAG art auction, during the Give to Get Art dinner party she hosted through Zoom on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.

Dinner host Jane Clark, who’s also on the board of the OAG, dined with her husband, Tom Clark, and their charming daughter Jill Clark, manager of communications at the Rideau Hall Foundation. 

Jane spoke about how the Ottawa Art Gallery, which was transformed a few years back into a state-of-the-art facility, is not only an important cultural hub for artists but also builds bridges with diverse communities.

“We do call ourselves ‘the home for the arts’ and we take great pride in that,” she told OBJ.social.

Daughter Jill had her eye on a few pieces, including Fiona Khaemba's City Girl digital print. She relied on a smartphone app to keep track of incoming bids.

“It’s like online gambling,” she joked.

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Ottawa Art Gallery board member Jane Clark is flanked by daughter Jill and husband Tom during an online dinner party she hosted as part of the OAG's Give to Get Art online auction, on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. 

Among their guests were Andre Albinati, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, and his wife, Corianne Bell. She said the virtual group dinner experience was “refreshing" compared to the bevy of video conferencing she's been doing during the pandemic.

"It’s really fun to see different groups of people on the screen and have entirely different conversations,” said Bell, a therapeutic music consultant.

Art helps to connect people, Albinati chimed in. 

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Andre Albinati and Corianne Bell participated in a virtual VIP dinner party as part of the Ottawa Art Gallery's Give to Get Art fundraiser, launched Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.

Relatively new to the OAG board is Melanie Adams. Best known for her successful career in the healthcare sector, she has an appreciation for visual artists thanks to her children, both of whom are creatively talented.

“To have these kinds of institutions available to us at no charge in Ottawa is such a gift, such a gift,” said Adams, who also commended the OAG for offering positive, social programs for community members. "It really does fit with my personal set of values."

Adams, who was joined by her husband, Steve McBurney, hosted such guests as philanthropists Carey and Nancy Garrett; former Shopify CFO Russ Jones; and Bruce Raganold, director of business development for Welch LLP. He and his wife, Giselle Bergeron-Raganold, are such a fun-loving couple. They dressed in 1950s attire, in keeping with their tradition of getting dressed up every Saturday night.

KPMG tax partner Cliff Taylor, who serves as treasurer of the OAG board, was having a proud dad moment that night.  He displayed his 17-year-old daughter's artwork so prominently that he practically cropped himself out of the meeting window. The budding young artist has been taking lessons with artist Katherine Muir Miller, who has a gallery in Perth.

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Host Melanie Adams, who's on the board of the Ottawa Art Gallery, with her husband, Steve McBurney, during a virtual VIP dinner party held Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, during the Ottawa Art Gallery's official launch of its Give to Get Art online art auction.
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Bruce Raganold and Giselle Bergeron-Raganold participated in a virtual VIP dinner party as part of the Ottawa Art Gallery's Give to Get Art fundraiser, launched Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
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Ottawa Art Gallery board treasurer Cliff Taylor, a partner at KPMG, prominently displayed his 17-year-old daughter's artwork during a VIP virtual dinner party that he participated in with his wife on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, to officially launch the OAG's virtual art auction.  

Along with Finéus, the other Critic's Choice winners were Rosalie Favell, Josée Dubeau, Marisa Gallemit and Jake Riseborough of BEING studio with Christopher Griffin. They were selected for their stand-out pieces by a jury made up of members of the community. The jurors were Tam-Ca Vo-Van, director of Galerie SAW Gallery, Rosey Edeh, filmmaker and co-anchor of CTV Morning Live Ottawa, and Linda Grussani, art historian and Indigenous Art curator.

The Give to Get Art auction closes 5 p.m. Friday. As of Monday morning, the auction was more than halfway toward reaching its fundraising goal of $45,000. There’s also an option for bidders, empty-handed or not, to make a donation to the gallery.

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A handful of the artworks that are featured in the Ottawa Art Gallery's Give to Get Art online art auction, which ends this Friday.

— caroline@obj.ca