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Archived - Indigenous art: an essential part of the new OPL-LAC Joint Facility

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March 1, 2021
Feature Stories

It’s an exciting time for the Ottawa Public Library – Library and Archives Canada (OPL-LAC) Joint Facility project. With construction set to begin later this year, the Indigenous Public Art Program has issued five calls to Indigenous artists to honour, support and showcase Indigenous art created in Canada.

Dawn Saunders Dahl is the Curator of Indigenous Art for the Indigenous Public Art Program. She took some time to answer our questions about the vision behind the program and the calls to artists.

Tell us a little about yourself and your role as Curator of Indigenous Art. What excites you most about the work you do?

I’ve been working for 20 years in arts administration. Over the last 10+ years, I developed specific calls for Indigenous artists, programs and events. I’m currently working primarily with local Indigenous artists and groups in the Bow Valley and around Alberta, developing public art opportunities, programs, jobs, education and events.

I’m honoured to be able to facilitate and provide bridges to address gaps that exist in public art processes. What excites me most is that I put process into action. I ensure that Indigenous voices are heard consistently throughout the processes and are part of all the conversations, offering space for Indigenous voices to provide input and guidance.

What is the Indigenous Public Art Program and how was it developed?

Through Indigenous engagement sessions with local Algonquin Anishinabe communities, Ottawa Gatineau’s urban Indigenous community, and input sought from other First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation people in a national online survey, we heard that:

  • There is an interest for the Indigenous Art Program to include opportunities to celebrate Indigenous art, culture and heritage.
  • The host Algonquin Anishinabe Nation wants to share their stories through art.
  • There must be opportunities for both young and experienced artists, as well as for those who work in a broad variety of mediums and styles.
  • It is important to ensure that the artists are provided steps for success within a process that is accessible where artists could see their artwork in the facility.
  • It is important to include the host nation as well as provide opportunities for Indigenous artists from across Canada to also share their stories and artwork in this national facility.
  • These artworks could influence future programs and acquisitions through exhibits and events.

Why is it important for Indigenous art to be included in the overall design of the OPL-LAC Joint Facility?

The facility will be located on traditional territory of the Algonquin people. The facility will hold records of the history of these lands, and it is crucial to include, understand and celebrate art and storytelling from Indigenous perspectives so that all Canadians have an opportunity to learn about our collective history.

Rendering of the OPL-LAC Joint Facility, view from Albert Street
Rendering of the OPL-LAC Joint Facility, view from Albert Street

Five calls to artists have been issued for Indigenous artists. Could you tell us a bit about each call and the vision behind them?

It is important we have a fair and transparent process and include opportunities for all visual art mediums and experience. We wanted to create opportunities where Indigenous artists and community members could provide input into the calls, as well as be part of the selection, instead of just creating direct calls for experienced artists.

I’ve included a brief description of each call below. For more information about the calls to artists, please visit the Indigenous Public Art Program’s webpage.

  • $30,000 + HST for the Indigenous Public Art Mentor
    • The Indigenous Public Art Mentor will provide positive guidance and support to local selected artists or teams. That includes all aspects of the public art process. This role will allow an experienced Indigenous artist to pass the fire – transferring knowledge that will strengthen Indigenous artistic voices within the public art field.
  • $45,000 for Inuit art
    • The City of Ottawa has the largest Inuit population south of the Arctic. A high number of Inuit visit the City’s current library facilities and partake in their programs and events. It is important that all Indigenous peoples feel welcome to the facility and see artwork that reflects their culture.
  • $100,000 + HST for the Indigenous multi-purpose room / second floor children’s story room option
    • Members of the Algonquin Anishinabe host Nation expressed an interest in seeing Algonquin colours and design elements within this specific space, which they plan to use. The design of the room was influenced by the host nation and it is fitting that the public artwork also reflects Algonquin storytelling and traditions.
  • $30,000 + HST for the exterior glass frit and/or interior film design
    • This opportunity is for Indigenous artists to propose a 2D visual art or craft as a repeating pattern on exterior and interior glazed surfaces. The repeating pattern will help prevent bird strikes and clearly identify interior glazed walls. An image would be selected for these glass panels. As well, Algonquin imagery can be seen from multiple angles both inside and outside the building, to enhance the design of the facility. It is another opportunity to incorporate storytelling with imagery or language.
  • $150,000 + HST for the exterior sculpture installation in the northeast garden area and/or second floor terrace
    • This is an opportunity for 3D Indigenous artists to install artwork created in a variety of mediums, such as metal, wood, glass, ceramic, stone and traditional Indigenous art-making materials, as well as to influence outdoor plantings.
  • $100,000 + HST for interior art installation at the Pimisi entrance
    • This is an opportunity for 2D Indigenous artists to install artwork created in a variety of mediums, such as metal, wood, glass, ceramic, stone, photography, painting, printmaking, animation/film and traditional Indigenous art-making materials.
  • $425,000 + HST for art installation on the exterior pillars
    • Indigenous engagement has noted the need for colour within the facility and that the exterior pillars provide an opportunity to tell stories in multiple locations along the exterior of the building.
      Rendering of the exterior of the Children’s Story Room
      Rendering of the exterior of the Children’s Story Room

Rendering of the interior view of the Indigenous Multi-Purpose Room
Rendering of the interior view of the Indigenous Multi-Purpose Room

Why was it important to include an Indigenous Public Art Mentor among the calls to artists?

Creating opportunities for emerging artists is important, as we heard during our Indigenous engagement sessions. While many talented artists might be interested in responding to the call to artists, many of them would not have the experience or know-how to scale their work to be able to participate in a project of this size and scope. From those conversations, the idea of hiring an Indigenous Public Art Mentor for this project emerged.

Why was it important to create a specific call for artists from the Algonquin host nation?

There is a call specifically offered to the Algonquin host nation as the project partners and curator felt it was important to recognize that the facility is located on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation.

How can residents and Indigenous artists learn more about the Indigenous Public Art Program?

Online sessions will be available, with presentations from the project’s architect’s (Diamond Schmitt Architects), the Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada about the Indigenous public art opportunities, each followed by a question and answer session. These sessions are scheduled to take place:

  • Tuesday, March 2 from 6 to 7.30 pm
  • Thursday, March 4 from 2 to 3:30 pm

I can also be reached via email at if there are questions or if artists would like to schedule a phone or zoom meeting.

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