Ottawa Art Gallery just shy of its $3.5M fundraising goal

More than a year before the new municipal gallery opens, the Ottawa Art Gallery has nearly met its fundraising goals.

New development at Daly Avenue and Waller Street to open in 2017

Alexandra Badzak, the director and CEO of the Ottawa Art Gallery, stands in front of what will be the Daly Avenue facade of the municipal gallery when it opens in 2017. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The Ottawa Art Gallery won't move into its long-awaited new facility next door for another year, but it is now only a few hundred thousand dollars shy of its fundraising goal of $3.5 million.

Some of the big steps toward hitting that goal have come from local residents, who've been motivated to donate $100,000 each.

The gallery's board chair Lawson Hunter committed that large sum, as did Brian and Susan Lahey.

Glenn and Barbara McInnes have been collecting contemporary art since the 1960s, when they bought their first painting from local artist Duncan De Kergommeaux from his then-gallery in Bells Corners.

Over the decades, they've collected hundreds of more works from artists, become friends with many of them and drawn a lot from hearing their perspectives.

"They've given us a lot and we can give something back to help create a gallery where more people can see their art," said Glenn McInnes of the couple's large donation. "It's as simple as that."

McInnes, the gallery's first board chair, was among those who worked hard in the late 1980s to help found the municipal gallery in a few former courtrooms on Daly Avenue.

He has also made a second donation, with Mayo Graham, to set up a founders' lobby in the new building that will explain the municipal gallery's origins.

'This is kind of our moment'

The gallery's CEO and director says there is "something in the air,"  a feeling of city-building in Ottawa.

Alexandra Badzak says donations of all sizes have come from residents and artists.

"I think what it does show is that people have confidence in the plan going forward, in the institution, and that this is kind of our moment," said Badzak.

Badzak keeps a pair of pink, steel-toed boots in her office so she can check in on construction progress next door, but setting up the institution for its opening in 2017 is definitely her bigger job.

That includes proving to donors that the gallery is ready for its next phase.

She has been growing the operating budget, solidifying the staff, and setting up the programs so that it can hit the ground running when the doors open in a four-times larger space.

Doing its fundraising homework

All that groundwork laid behind the scenes means that even before the Ottawa Art Gallery kicked off its fundraising campaign in September 2015, organizers were confident it would succeed, said Badzak.

The team spoke with the Great Canadian Theatre Company about what worked and didn't in its capital campaign.

The local theatre company opened its Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre on Wellington Street West to great fanfare in 2007, only to have to return to city council in 2013 asking for money to pay down construction debts.

The Ottawa Art Gallery also consulted other cultural institutions in Canada going through big building projects.

"We learned from that. We learned to set our goal in a modest way. Ottawa is a complicated town to raise money in," said Badzak.

It helped that the bulk of the construction costs for the new facility at Waller Street and the Mackenzie King Bridge are being borne by the city, the province, and the private sector developers. That lets the gallery focus on $3.5 million in fit-up costs and an endowment fund.

Room for art lovers of all ages

McInnes credits Badzak and board chair Hunter for the fundraising success.

"They're just people you want to help," said McInnes. "They create a wide circle for a lot of people to be in."

"I think in a town the size of Ottawa you just can't raise that kind of money if you don't have a real wide community of followers."

Badzak is already growing that circle. She's looking at setting up a pilot project with The Royal Mental Health Centre, among other partnerships.

In the new facility, she pictures a place where families can have brunch at the gallery and then let the children take part in an art activity.

"A place where you can drop in after work, have a glass of wine, take in the art for free, and have great conversation about art. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"