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Future of Ottawa: Visual Art with Marisa Gallemit

By Apartment613 on March 30, 2021

This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s art scene—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Marisa Gallemit on visual art in Ottawa, or read posts from Olivia Johnston on photographic arts, Carrie Colton on art galleries, or Thomas Cumberbatch and Tegan Smith on studio spaces.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Marisa Gallemit is a visual artist whose practice is informed by womanhood, motherhood, and Filipinx third culture. Her practice spans sculpture, assemblage, site-specific installation, storytelling, and arts advocacy. Gallemit was selected for an Ottawa Art Gallery/LeParty Fundraiser Critics Choice Award (2019, 2020) and is a recipient of both the SAW Prize for New Works and the City of Ottawa Creation + Production Fund for Emerging Artists. In 2021, she will be participating in The Parkette Projects for Toronto’s Year of Public Art. She has been exhibiting her work in Ontario and Quebec since 2010. 

What is the current landscape for independent visual artists in Ottawa?

Marisa Gallemit: Independent visual artists know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Luckily, Ottawa has a compact and solid roster of launchpads and landing zones that are specific to visual art: institutional galleries (National Gallery of Canada, Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa Art Gallery, City Hall Gallery, Karsh-Masson Gallery), artist-run centres (SAW Gallery, DARC/Knot Project Space, Axe-Neo7, Gallery 101, Galerie UQO, Possible Worlds, BEING studio), commercial/private galleries (Central Art Garage, Studio Sixty-Six, Galerie St-Laurent+Hill, OAG Annexe, Wallspace Gallery, Orange Art Gallery), and schools (Canterbury HS, De La Salle HS, UQO, U of O, Carleton University, Ottawa School of Art). The City of Ottawa Public Art Program, the Ottawa Arts Council, Arts Network Ottawa and Qu’ART also support a tonne of community-engaged projects.

But because Ottawa is small and we all seem to be only one degree of separation away, music, theatre, dance, film, architecture and performance folks are merging constantly and folding visual art into the mix. I’ve contributed installation work to Ottawa music festivals in the past (Megaphono, Arboretum, Ottawa Chamberfest) and I’m happy to be currently involved in projects with Laura Taler for the NAC and with Orchidae (Yolande Laroche) for Debaser.

Other ways to keep a thriving practice in Ottawa: sharing work on Instagram, like my friend Jose Palacios, exhibiting at art-centric restaurants and cafes (Manx Pub, Citizen, Arlington5, Oz Kafe), participating in community group shows, keeping an eye out for public art calls, applying for grants, and submitting to the city’s annual Direct Purchase Program (the city collection acquires new works every year).

Louise Bourgeois described her practice as an “itinéraire unique,” her own path. It’s a good thing to remember when I see her Maman sculpture outside the National Gallery: make work and choose your own adventure.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is visual art going in Ottawa in 2021?

Collaboration, cross-pollination and cooperation: we’re already seeing it happen in a big way. Dancers, musicians and visual artists are partnering with photographers and filmmakers to document performances and conspiring to envision projects with these alliances in mind. The Ontario Council for the Arts is encouraging this shift with its recent initiative, the Artist-Presenter Collaboration Project grant. From what I can tell, visual artists are busy making work!

Since public health constraints remain fluid and unpredictable, I am guessing that most art openings and artist talks will remain virtual until we all get vaccinated. I’m looking forward to raising a glass in real life with my fellow art practitioners when it’s safe.

Vincent Tiley performance at Axe-Néo7. Photo: Ming Wu.

Where in your wildest dreams could Ottawa’s visual art community grow in your lifetime?

My dream Ottawa visual art community exists in a city that has re-jigged itself into a place where an independent artist can live a comfortable life and make work well into their dignified old age. It’s a community that is housed, healthy, fed and safe across the board. This means affordable housing, Universal Basic Income, budget-friendly studio spaces and frictionless pathways to funding. (To wit, Canada’s largest municipal arts councils got together and recently published a piece in The Globe and Mail advocating for UBI.)

My blue-sky future Ottawa arts community includes families, elders and children and cultivates cross-generational projects. It is a locus where Indigenous, Black, and Brown artists, LGBTQ2S+/queer artists and artists with disabilities feel safe and flourish. My dream Ottawa supports the well-being and longevity of working artists. I hope it happens in my lifetime!

Hanging art at The Manx.

What is the best innovation to take place in visual art practice since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Honestly, CERB and COVID relief grants were the deus ex machina of 2020 for so many artists, across all disciplines. This financial support helped a lot of folks get through a year of cancellations and lost opportunities. In my opinion, any other innovation (Zoom, Instagram Live, VR, 3D printing) pales in comparison.

*Who* is the future of visual art in Ottawa?

Whoever has the gumption to commit to an art-making practice and to recognize its value despite the obstacles, is the future.

Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in art.

Procrastination is part of the process. Buy a good drill. Learn from your peers. Hit those deadlines!


Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.