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3 Awesome Free Art Experiences in Ottawa

3 Awesome Free Art Experiences in Ottawa


By Erin Macnab

Tell anyone interested in the visual or performing arts that you live in Ottawa, and you’ll usually get the same response: “You’re so lucky! There’s always so much going on there!” It’s true that Ottawa is known throughout Canada as a centre of the arts. The National Capital Region is home to the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Arts Centre, to name a few. But, these large national institutions aren’t the only movers in Ottawa’s vibrant arts scene. There’s so much cool local arts stuff going on that, if you visited Ottawa and only saw the big museums, you’d be missing out! If you’re looking to get in touch with Ottawa’s local art scene, here are three free ideas for getting in touch and involved.

Byward Market Gallery Walk

With it’s monumental glass architecture and spider-and-spike sculptures, the National Gallery of Canada is a huge presence on the edge of the Byward Market. Don’t let this stop you from visiting some other great, local galleries on your way to or from the big guy! There’s all kinds of art to be seen in the Market. For me, the natural starting point is the Karsh-Masson Gallery – one of the City of Ottawa’s own gallery (not least because I helped out there in grad school.) The Karsh-Masson is great – the gallery features local artists, and the desk that greets you at the front holds massive amounts of resources about other galleries and events in the area. Pick up some flyers and explore!

The Karsh-Masson Gallery is located at 136 St Patrick Street:

Carleton University Art Gallery

Okay, as a Carleton graduate, I might be a little biased. But it’s not all alumni pride. The Carleton University Art Gallery, or CUAG, is a genuinely unique, interesting gallery featuring local and international artists, Carleton students and instructors, and art that ranges from historical to contemporary. Located in St Patrick’s building on CU campus, CUAG is open to everyone. Exhibits change all the time, and the CUAG website is a great resource for learning about presentations and performances related to what’s showing. The exhibitions are curated by CUAG staff, by Carleton students and profs and by local artists, so you’ll definitely see a wide variety of viewpoints presented!

If you’re a Carleton student, there’s no excuse! Head down to CUAG on your lunch or after class and get involved with the vibrant gallery located on your home turf. Hours and details of current and upcoming exhibitions and events available here:

Shenkman Arts Centre

Leaving the centre of Ottawa doesn’t mean losing out on great local art. The Shenkman Arts Centre, located at 245 Centrum Boulevard in Orleans, brings the community together through performances, workshops, classes and more. As you approach the Centre, you’ll notice something strange: even though the performances are supposed to take place inside, there seems to  be a large piano sitting on an outside stage – and the stool is a giant boulder! Maskull Lasserre’s Resonance incorporates a huge boulder discovered during the construction of the Centre. The artist encourages visitors to the Centre to interact with the sculpture – next time you’re checking out a performance or coming in for a class, play a few notes on the piano!

The Centre itself is a work of art. Ottawa artist Adrian Göllner was commissed to design a facade for the building that commemorates the trees that once stood on the site. The glazed colours of Stand vividly invoke the seasons and welcome visitors to the Centre with open arms. Once you’re inside the Centre, be sure to take a walk around. Much of the wall space is given over to works from the City of Ottawa’s collection, showcasing stand-out pieces from area artists.

Shenkman is also the home of great shows and classes. Check it out here:

These are just three of many awesome art experiences you can have in Ottawa for free. Walk into the galleries that dot every neighbourhood in the city, talk to street artists, see what students are doing at UofO, Carleton, Algonquin and more, watch performances at festivals or take a class at the Ottawa School of Art – there’s so many ways to get involved with the arts in Ottawa.

What are your favourite art experiences in Ottawa?

Erin holds a master’s degree in art history from Carleton University.