Ottawa Art Gallery welcomes new board chair Mark Schaan, and yup, he's bidding in Give to Get Art auction

OAG's virtual summer art auction presents its most inclusive and varied auction to date, featuring more than 75 emerging and established artists from the region
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Mark Schaan, new board chair of the Ottawa Art Gallery, surrounded by artworks, including Korean-born, Ottawa-based artist Elle Chae's Uninvited, in the gallery's Alma Duncan Salon for the upcoming Give to Get Art fundraising art auction. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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It may be time to switch up the artwork in your home office or living room, particularly if that Group of Seven print of windswept pines that you’ve been staring at throughout the pandemic doesn’t quite do it for you anymore. 

As it so happens, the Ottawa Art Gallery is running its 2021 Give to Get Art virtual auction beginning 8 p.m. Friday through to Sunday at 5 p.m. It features works from more than 75 emerging and established artists from the region. 

The auction is the municipal gallery's signature fundraising event. Proceeds help to support the non-profit organization's public and educational programming and the care and preservation of its collection. Money raised also helps to keep the gallery free and accessible to the public and to support local artists, who receive 50 per cent of the sale of their donated artwork.

For Mark Schaan, the new chair of the board of the Ottawa Art Gallery, the event is his favourite of the year.

“My home art collection has many an auction purchase, and I’ve gotten into some good bidding wars with fellow board members,” he said during an interview in the OAG’s Alma Duncan Salon, where the Give to Get Art exhibition is on dazzling display. 

The auction includes a mixture of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, photography and printmaking, mixed media and jewelry done by a diverse group of artists.

Schaan has his eye on a textile piece by Zainab Hussain called Our Stories Cannot be Unlistened To, made with formal-wear materials sourced second-hand from family and friends as well as from local markets in Mumbai, India. It's a pandemic-inspired piece that highlights story-sharing and the lasting impact of empathetic listening when physical connections feel distant.

Unfortunately, the province’s plan for easing pandemic restrictions means the gallery is currently not scheduled to reopen until July 21. Organizers have created an immersive 3D virtual tour of the exhibit to give bidders as close to an authentic viewing experience as possible.

For $35, the public is invited to buy a ticket to cast their online bids. The app is downloadable to smartphones, tablets and computers, and includes live updates and alerts for when a bidder has been outbid. Up until last week, orders for home-delivered dinners and charcuterie packages were being accepted for Friday’s opening night.

OAG director and CEO Alexandra Badzak and artist Gillian King will be speaking via Zoom about King’s art and her art therapy practice, which involves engaging with seniors, including those living in long-term care at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre.

“I’m hoping people will also use this event as a bit of an excuse for their own little party,” said Schaan, who joined the OAG board three years ago after serving for a year on the gallery’s strategic initiative committee. 

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Mark Schaan, new board chair of the Ottawa Art Gallery, surrounded by artworks in the Alma Duncan Salon for the gallery's upcoming Give to Get Art virtual art auction. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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There are more than 75 artworks featured in the Ottawa Art Gallery's upcoming Give to Get Art fundraising art auction, currently on display in the Alma Duncan Salon of the Ottawa Arts Gallery. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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There are more than 75 artworks, including this mixed media work, titled Oh the Humanity, by Franco-Ontarian artist Geneviève Thauvette, featured in the Ottawa Art Gallery's upcoming Give to Get Art fundraising art auction currently on display in the Alma Duncan Salon of the Ottawa Arts Gallery. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Artist Christos Pantieras's Write Me a Letter is one of more than 75 works featured in the upcoming Give to Get Art art auction for the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Artist Nic Cooper's oil on canvas, titled Lineages, is adapted from a photojournalist's image shot at a Pride March in Europe and is among the artworks to be auctioned off as part of the Ottawa Art Gallery's upcoming Give to Get Art auction. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Schaan, 42, is a Winnipeg-born Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in social policy from Oxford. He's held roles with a number of departments in the federal government over the past 15 years and is currently associate assistant deputy minister at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

He's not an artist, but his passion for the arts grew naturally when "something twigged" during his first visits to the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  

Schaan also loves community building. He used to be president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and of the non-profit organization Ten Oaks Project. He helped to launch its Project Acorn intergenerational camp for LGBTQ+ families. 

As well, he founded an initiative at the National Gallery of Canada for next-gen supporters. He was motivated to create the group, named Untitled, after he started attending events for strong arts supporters and noticed an absence of dynamic and diverse young professionals.

“I kind of looked around and thought no one looks like me, so how are we going to get the next generation really engaged and interested in these institutions.”

A couple of years ago, Schaan took over the OAG’s strategic planning process. The experience helped to prepare him for his new role as gallery board chair.

“It put me in good stead to get to know the other board members and to continue to be really committed to the mission and vision of the gallery,” said Schaan. “I would really like to help drive the agenda that we’ve set out because it’s an extraordinary one.”

He credits past board chair Vic Duret, a retired partner at KPMG, with “pushing us to think big” through the OAG’s creation of a strategic plan that’s organic, rooted and engaged.

"This wasn’t a sticky note exercise in a board room where we come up with four big tag words and call it a day."

"We made a very early commitment in that process to make sure this wasn't going to be a one-and-done, this wasn't a sticky note exercise in a board room where we came up with four big tag words and call it a day. The goal was really to fundamentally engage with what the possible futures of this institution were and how we could be part of those futures.”

Before the pandemic hit, the gallery was already having open dialogues with its staff, board and the public “to think about and provoke us into imagining how big and how bold we could be,” said Schaan.

The gallery found itself pivoting and responding to the extraordinary racial tensions arising from Black Lives Matter, he said, by having discussions with racialized artists and the racialized community.

“Then, COVID happened and we had to think about resilience.”

The OAG plans to continue its public conversations, said Schaan, “because they’ve proven to be extraordinarily valuable. We’re going to continue to build community, but we’re going to do it with a diversity, inclusion and anti-rascist lens. We’re going to fuel the love of art and artists, because that’s our job, and we’re going to shore up our resilience and our sustainability, particularly given that this year we’ve had to weather quite the storm and we need to be prepared to do that again.”

Schaan says his commitment to the Ottawa Art Gallery comes from its boldness, its authenticity and its lack of airs.

“I love that it wants to be a part of this neighbourhood, it wants to be a part of this community and it wants to dream big. That’s super exciting.”

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From left, Taline Jirian, deputy director of marketing and development for the Ottawa Art Gallery, in the gallery's Alma Duncan Salon with Eilidh Kyte, officer of strategic initiatives and special events, and Véronique Couillard, officer of media, public and Francophone relations, surrounded by artworks featured in the upcoming Give to Get Art virtual art auction. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca