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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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 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.


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.”


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.


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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