In 1879, a group of prominent local citizens formed an association for the encouragement and advancement of the fine arts throughout Canada. They proposed to establish an art union that would sponsor annual exhibitions in this city, to use the influence of the association in promoting the creation of a National Gallery, and to open a School of Art and Design in Ottawa. A short time later, under the patronage of the Marquis of Lorne and his wife the Princess Louise, they succeeded on all counts.
By then, plans for a National Art Association had evolved into the idea of a academy of artists, each of whom would contribute a “diploma” work to form the basis of a national collection (later to become the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection). The Royal Canadian Academy held its first gala exhibition in March, 1880 at the Clarendon Hotel, situated at the corner of Sussex and George Streets. A month later the Art Association hired an instructor to begin art classes in rooms at 140 Wellington Street. Eighteen pupils made up the first enrollment.
The Art Association of Ottawa ran the Ottawa Art School (as it was then known) for almost twenty years. By 1899, however,support had waned. Although the Royal Canadian Academy continued to sponsor occasional lifedrawing classes throughout the early years of the century, it was not until the ’20s and ’30s that a number of groups, including the revived Art Association, once again offered regular art instruction to citizens of the capital – only to have classes suspended again at the onset of the World War II.
In 1953, the art school was reborn as the Municipal Art Centre in a two-room schoolhouse at Billings Bridge – this time under the auspices of the City of Ottawa. In 1977, following two more moves, the School was renamed once again and became the Ottawa School of Art – Ecole d’art d’Ottawa (OSA). This same year it was incorporated as a non-profit organization, administered by a volunteer board of directors elected by its membership.
In 1983 the OSA moved back to downtown Ottawa, taking up its current location in a heritage building at 35 George Street – half a block from where the Academy held its first exhibition and only a few blocks from the site of the first art classes offered in Ottawa.
Today the Ottawa School of Art offers a full range of specialized art courses including lifedrawing, landscape painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, lithography, watercolour, etching, printmaking, and a wide variety of specialized short courses and workshops. Children’s and Teens’ classes range from multi-media to animation and cartooning, sculpture and construction, pottery, drawing and painting. In addition to art courses, the OSA’s programs have grown to include visiting artist-in-residence workshops, a professional exhibitions gallery (which hosts solo and groups shows by local, national and international artists) a one-year Portfolio Development Program and a 3-year Diploma Program.
As a major arts institution in the region, OSA works closely with other cultural organizations and is a member of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council, the Ontario Ministry of Culture & Communications, the Canada Council and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton. The bulk of OSA’s revenues come from tuition fees, membership dues, and fundraising efforts.