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Hidden away in Ottawa, Kathy White discovers a stash of Canadian art available to us all: Art for our sake

The Globe and Mail
September 21, 2017

On Doors Open weekend in Ottawa, thousands of people lined up to see inside buildings they pass daily without a second thought. This year, I was determined to visit at least one, too.

The Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa is open for one day only, and there’s no line outside. Arriving at the corner of McArthur Road and St. Laurent Boulevard, a wide and noisy thoroughfare lined with huge car dealerships, I wonder if I have the wrong address. But then I see a large banner announcing the Doors Open event.

Tucked between two parking lots, the Art Bank is inside a nondescript one-storey building with a weary picnic table in front. The welcome is low-key: Staff with name tags hanging from their necks are quietly talking to visitors, but there is no guided tour, no map, no indication of what I am about to see.

I join a few visitors along a narrow corridor past a series of alcoves that remind me of library stacks. Interspersed with a few pieces of artwork are colourful panels promoting the Art Bank: the collection belongs to all Canadians; individuals can benefit from art rental; it costs as little as $3 a day.

Next, is a large open space with couches and people examining several large canvasses, one of which is a painted Google search about Indigenous peoples, and about 50 smaller framed pieces. I focus on a collection inspired by sushi; it turns out to be a playful view of Canadian cuisine: Blueberries, Tim Hortons doughnuts and what appears to be wieners wrapped in rice and thin layers of cabbage.

Hidden in one corner of this gallery space is the entrance to an immense warehouse of sculptures and 3-D art in a variety of media. One of the first is a clear Plexiglass wagon, sitting on a lower shelf, but soon, the sheer volume of objects overpowers my attention and clouds my memory.

Dozens of pieces sit randomly on the painted concrete floor and more are hidden in boxes on shelving units, each about 30-feet long – there must be thousands of cartons hiding unique Canadian treasures inside. The labels and pictures on the boxes hint at the variety of a collection too extensive to grasp. A big-box store for art.

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