2 min

It’s all about the money now

I believe in opportunity. When my European relatives or Montreal/Toronto friends ask me why I live in Ottawa, I tell them it's a growing city.

When they ask me what's going on other than government, I recite my speech on the National Arts Centre, the museums, the galleries like SAW, Gallery 101 and La Petite Mort. I talk about nature and the lakes and the restaurants. 

And when that's not enough, I watch myself grow defensive and change strategies. I talk about Ottawa being a festival city and drop some big names like Bluesfest and accentuate the word international in front of the animation and writer's festivals.

Hey — you gotta do what you got to do. Though sometimes I grow weary and succumb to frustration. 

Like today, when I found out that the Convention Centre will not be going forward with the planned digital art wall.

A blank canvas instead of a splendid digital art wall. 

Don't misunderstand me. The Convention Centre is architecturally splendid and its presence has already beautified Ottawa. Even the pavement around it and the benches have set a tone for an Ottawa that cares about design. 

The digital art wall would have brought art and culture to another level in the city. It would have helped brand Ottawa as a destination that is alive with art. I can't count how many historical sculptures there are in the city; it wouldn't have hurt to add something contemporary.

The last time I got excited about exterior art in Ottawa was for Roxy Paine's One Hundred Foot Line at the National Gallery. And before that, Louise Bourgeois's Maman. The sculptures on the sidewalks of Little Italy or Westboro Village are, for me, a big disappointment. The hand-carved marble sculptures of fire hydrants and vegetables must have been very expensive. Still, they were commissioned.

Yet, the digital art wall was scrapped because, according to the Centre's president, Pat Kelly, "It escalated the capital and operating costs to a point where we just couldn’t develop the bottom line on the wall to get a return on the investment [ . . . even though . . . ] the ultimate result would have been quite magnificent, one of a kind in Canada." 

It's not just about being the first in Canada. Digital art is a growing form of expression practised by some of my favourite artists, including Takashi Murakami and Montreal-based video artist Owen Eric Wood, who deals with sexuality in such a moving and critical way. 

And, unlike static sculptures, digital art walls allow you to rotate artists, thus presenting multiple works and themes over time. 

So, for something that has such creative potential, why is ROI (return on investment) even an issue? Do the public statues I mentioned earlier in Westboro earn money? I would argue that art for art's sake is enough.

But I am an idealist. When it comes to art, money always seems to be in the way. I guess branding the city as a cultural destination and selling it as such wouldn't produce short-term profits. 

That being said, there's still hope the project could come back to life. Let's not make this a missed opportunity. Let the finance people figure out a way to make this happen — we all want it!

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