Giving Life to Contemporary Canadian Art: 50 years of purchases
By: ArtBank /
24 January 2023
As part of the Art Bank’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2022, an open call to purchase new artwork was announced last June; it was the first since 2011. In the early days of the Art Bank, peer assessment committees would visit artists’ studios and exhibitions across Canada and decide which works of art would be acquired for the collection. Nowadays, artists are invited to submit their works for consideration.
But one thing that has not changed is the enthusiasm with which the art community greets opportunities for artwork purchases. This latest open call drew more than 1,700 eligible submissions, resulting in the purchase of 72 new works. And the enthusiasm makes sense—being in the Art Bank can broaden the exposure of an artist’s work significantly.
Impact of early career support
Marlene Creates is now a well-established Canadian artist. Her artwork was purchased by the Art Bank early in her career. “I was living in Ottawa in the early 1980s,” she recalls. “The kind of art I was doing was not something that a commercial gallery would be interested in. I was showing some of my work and it happened to coincide when the Art Bank’s purchase committee was travelling.”
Back then, the Art Bank would send a peer assessment committee travelling across Canada in search of artwork. “[That] was the first time I sold any of my work. The absolute best thing anyone can do for an artist is to buy their work.”
Art takes on new life
In 1999, the Art Bank actively expanded into the corporate sector. That expansion proved to be a wise one—for the arts community, for clients and for the public. The Art Bank’s collection and clientele grew steadily. The Art Bank oversaw several open calls for purchase between 2001 and 2011, ensuring that it was acquiring artwork by artists who were historically underrepresented, including Indigenous and racialized artists.
Canadian sculptor Anna Williams had one of her works purchased by the Art Bank in 2011. “That purchase was almost like creating a public work,” she says. “It’s not just exhibited once every 20 years, or just sitting in storage in a private collection. Art Bank pieces travel all over Canada and can become a part of so many different people’s lives.”
Beginning a dialogue
The 2022 open call continues the expansion of the Art Bank collection and highlights the diversity of artists available to clients. The collection features new works from contemporary Canadian artists who are now actively contributing to the contemporary Canadian arts landscape.
One of those artists is Nelson White, a Mi’kmaq painter and member of the Flat Bay First Nation Band (No’kmaq Village) in Flat Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. His selected work, Grandfather (2022), centres on documenting the changing cultural landscape of his people. “I’m honored to have one of my works selected by the Canada Council Art Bank. To know that the painting will have a life as part of this permanent collection is a source of joy and satisfaction at this point in my career. I am excited to follow the journey of this painting.”
Grandfather (2022) by Nelson White. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
“This open call is an opportunity to expand the diversity of artists in our collection, and to tell their stories,” says Amy Jenkins, Head of the Art Bank. “The selected artworks communicate so many histories and practices that will enrich our understanding of personal experience and encourage dialogue.”
Jane Meredith Whitten, whose artwork Consumed (2021–22) was also acquired, is grateful for this opportunity and what it represents for her. “The years of COVID have been very isolating and I’ve been tucked away in my little house, immersed in my work with discarded materials, with only a few local opportunities to show my work and to connect with (and get feedback from) artists, peers, and other curious minds,” says Whitten. “It is a truly overwhelming experience to have my work recognized by a select group of peers as meaningful and important during this time of climate crisis and global pandemic.”
Jane Meredith Whitten, Consumed (2021-22). Every month in 2021, Jane Meredith Whitten collected and recorded discarded wrappings in her single-person household to create a bar graph of her household plastic usage. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
These new works of art will be available for rent beginning in April 2023. As they make their journey throughout Canada this year and in the future, the hope is that they carry with them the possibility of deeper conversations and dialogues among those who view them.
“Art is foundational to community,” says Jenkins. “We hope that these new works help build more inclusive communities across Canada.”
Get to know the new pieces
Details on the new additions to the Art Bank’s collection can be found in the press release.
Rémi Belliveau, Land of Evangeline Route, 1930 (2021). Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Skin Deep (2014-2020). Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Maureen Gruben, Moving with joy across the ice while my face turns brown from the sun (2019). Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto