Sharing Art with the World: 50 years of Art Bank ClientsBy: ArtBank / 13 December 2022
In 1972, Suzanne Rivard LeMoyne, then a visual arts officer at the Canada Council for the Arts, was struck by a simple idea. The Council had recently sold the collection of contemporary art displayed in its offices to the Department of External Affairs; Council walls were bare. Rivard LeMoyne’s idea: why not create an art bank from a collection of works of art that would be available for rent to government departments? This was the 1970s; interest in and demand for Canadian art were on the rise. An art bank would give more Canadians greater access to exciting works by diverse artists from across the country. The program would enable government agencies, and eventually private sector companies, to rent Canadian works of art.
In the decades since, the Art Bank has grown to be the largest collection of contemporary Canadian art. Works of art have found homes in the offices and public spaces of clients across the country. These clients are fundamental to continuing the mission of the Art Bank, because they help more people discover the rich diversity of Canadian art.
Taking Canadian art to the world
When Jonathan Fried first rented the painting Man III, by Marielouise Kreyes, he didn’t imagine that he was starting a decades-long relationship with the Art Bank. Yet the painting was at home in his Global Affairs Canada and other diplomatic offices for nearly 20 years. Prior to choosing the work, Fried had no knowledge of Kreyes and found the painting to be thought-provoking. He just said, “That painting is very special, and I think it would suit me well.”
Marielouise Kreyes’ Man III (1973) accompanied diplomat Jonathan Fried for nearly two decades.
Fried’s long career took him to many postings abroad. Man III went with him. Colleagues from around the world were greeted by the painting in his office. This sparked many conversations with his guests. “Working on the opposite end of the world—in Japan, for example—there were varying interpretations of the work,” he recalls. “I found people wanting to know more about the artist and her oeuvre, and about Canadian art in general.”
Making art accessible to the next generation
The Sprott School of Business at Carleton University showcases the diversity of Canadian art in action. The School’s new Nicol building gives students from around the world a place to gather as a community. The School enlisted the Art Bank to curate a collection of pieces that immerse the next generation of business leaders in the work of a broad range of emerging and established Canadian artists.
“We want to display works of art that help create an inspiring and collaborative learning environment for our students and the community,” explains Deborah Casselman-Jones, Manager of Operations in the Office of the Dean. “The works of art on display reflect Sprott’s values of compassion, imagination and purpose, and promote our strong culture of support and inclusion.”
Pieces from the Art Bank’s collection punctuate a multi-floor gathering space in the Nicol building.
Students can take a quiet moment with Judith Berry’s Filter (2009) in a lounge at the Nicol building.
Art, now more than ever
Art can help forge deep connections. As employees return to workplaces post-pandemic, art is more important than ever to help re-establish a sense of belonging.
Kinaxis, a Canadian software company, worked with the Art Bank to create a thoughtful and welcoming office space. “Art is important in a work environment,” says Neal Billings, Manager of Graphic Design. “It evokes an emotion or an opinion, or sparks a conversation. Seeing a favourite piece daily can bring moments of joy to what can sometimes be a stressful environment.”
Jack Bush often used vibrant, joyful colours in his work. Grey Arc (1974) shines in the natural light of Kinaxis’ lobby.
The first thing Kinaxis employees and visitors see as they enter the office is a painting by Jack Bush, best known for his mid-20th century abstract works. “The staff loves the new artwork, and it really brings the final touches to our brand new building,” Billings says.
Together with the Art Bank’s consultants, Kinaxis selected an array of Canadian artworks for their space.
Square Composition Blue over Yellow (1990) and Vertical Composition (Yellow Red) (1990) by Jaan Poldaas (left)
Sound (1995) by Jim Hart (right)
The next half-century’s rich potential
“By transforming their workspaces, clients truly support the Art Bank’s raison d’être: to showcase the breadth and quality of Canadian art. When works of art find a temporary home, whether it be in someone’s office or in a lobby, they take on a completely new meaning. They help build bonds and offer new perspectives on life,” says Amy Jenkins, Head of the Art Bank. “I’m excited to imagine the next 50 years of Canadian art. The prospect of new generations of artists and clients—and the many ideas and connections they will bring—truly bode well for the Art Bank.”
Interested in bringing contemporary Canadian art into your workspace? Get in touch with the Art Bank team.
As part of the Art Bank’s 50th anniversary celebrations, you can view pieces from the Art Bank’s collection of Indigenous and racialized artists on display at the Looking the World in the Face exhibit: https://canadacouncil.ca/about/ajagemo/looking-the-world-in-the-face