‘Any kind of art for any kind of person’

At 61, Kate Oakley did what many people her age talk about doing, but few actually follow through with. She walked into the Ottawa School of Art and immersed herself full-time in creating and studying art.

Oakley came to the school after experiencing a tough stretch in her life.

“I’d been through palliative care with my dad and I thought, ‘I just need to regroup,’ ” said Oakley, explaining her decision to enroll in the diploma program.

While she saw herself as more of a poet, she always felt she had an artist locked inside her. She says now that her time at the school was just what she needed.

The Ottawa School of Art, one of Ottawa’s best and oldest cultural institutions, is tucked away inside a beautiful heritage building at the corner of George and Sussex streets.

Established in 1879 in order to promote fine arts in Ottawa and throughout Canada, the school has maintained its two primary objectives since its doors first opened — hosting exhibitions and educating the public about art.

“We are a non-profit, private school,” says Nina Camilleri, marketing and events coordinator.

And the school’s success can be seen in its growth.

“We’ve got two main galleries,” says Camilleri.

“One at this location and one at the Shenkman Arts Centre at the Orléans campus, and then we have three off-sites, so we have a lot of gallery space.”

Both the Byward Market and the Shenkman Arts Centre locations offer stand-alone courses or full-time programs in arts, ranging from traditional fine arts to cutting-edge computer-based design.

“We offer a diploma program, three-year intensive full-time studies and portfolio development program, and a one-year intensive studies program, to help prepare for post-secondary education,” says Camilleri.

And Oakley says the intensive studies are tough but rewarding.

“It is a very intense program,” says Oakley. “It can be stressful at times because it really pushes you, and it is a really big growth process.

“Art is much more difficult than people think it is, but on day two, I thought that this is where I was supposed to be my entire life.”

At all levels, the Ottawa School of Art stresses the importance of artistic

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“cross-training,” designed to draw the very best out of their students.

“The school, instead of being focused on the technical elements, is focused on helping you find your voice,” says Oakley, “providing exercises and projects that force you to go in and find your voice.”

The Ottawa School of Art keeps classes small and works to find ways to support its graduates, through networking and graduate-focused art shows.

The same approach is taken with children’s programs.

“Generally, our children’s programs run on weekends and are for ages six to 15,” says Camilleri. “We also have a March Break camp, and our summer camps run in July and August.”

While galleries are always open to the public, free of charge, the school recently participated in Ottawa’s first annual Nuit Blanche and saw 7,000 people come through the door.

“We want people to come in wander in and look around. It is completely open and public,” says Camilleri.

“Our motto is ‘art for everyone’ — any kind of art for any kind of person.”