Vicki Heyman on the art of American diplomacy

| March 22, 2016 | 0 Comments
Artist Marie Watt, right, and Bruce and Vicki Heyman stand with Watt’s blanket sculpture, which has spent the year at the ambassador’s residence as part of Art in Embassies. (Photo: Embassy of the United States)

Artist Marie Watt, right, and Bruce and Vicki Heyman stand with Watt’s blanket sculpture, which has spent the year at the ambassador’s residence as part of Art in Embassies. (Photo: Embassy of the United States)

Vicki Heyman is every Ottawa art lover’s dream. The wife of U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman, she is a self-appointed cultural envoy and the life force behind Contemporary Conversations, a series that has brought some of the United States’ most interesting and accomplished artists to the capital.
Marie Watt, Nick Cave, Eric Fischl and Stephen Wilkes — they’re big names in American art — each paid Ottawa a visit in 2015 to give a talk at the National Gallery of Canada’s auditorium and take part in other relevant events organized around the visit. Marie Watt, a multimedia artist of Seneca descent, participated in a public sewing circle at the gallery on a Saturday and gave a talk at Carleton University. Eric Fischl participated in a roundtable discussion at the Canada Council Art Bank and Stephen Wilkes took part in an interactive conversation on photography as an agent for change.

Artist Eric Fischl shows U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman his sculpture, Tumbling Woman, which was inspired by the events of 9/11. (Photo: Embassy of the United States)

Artist Eric Fischl shows U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman his sculpture, Tumbling Woman, which was inspired by the events of 9/11. (Photo: Embassy of the United States)

Of equal weight is the lineup for 2016, which included Kiki Smith, a photographer, sculptor and textile artist, in March;  and will include Theaster Gates, an installation artist, in May; and sculptor Anne Chu in September.
“In 2016, Contemporary Conversations is back by popular demand,” the ebullient Vicki Heyman said.
The Art in Embassies program is an institutionalized program of the State Department that’s been around since U.S. president John F. Kennedy. It traditionally brings American art to embassies around the world.
“I’ve always loved art,” Heyman said. “I’ve always seen it as a vehicle for dialogue and exchange. I thought it would be wonderful to bring the art, but more wonderful to amplify it with the artists’ voice.” She approached the cultural office at the embassy to see if it could fund a program expansion that would include Contemporary Conversations.
Heyman’s vision was to bring the artists to Canada “to speak about their art and cross-border issues of global importance: Social impact, social justice, identity and environment. It was the idea of humanizing and building a community of people who respond to art and to use this platform as a way to talk about what we care about.”
A community is indeed what it built.
“You never really know the power  of something until it happens,” she said, thinking back to Watt’s talk. “She was the first artist. We had that extraordinary sewing circle, which brought people together to create art. After that weekend was over, I was like ‘yes’!”
After hearing from four artists already, the series has brought together an evolving community of art lovers, activists, community leaders, students, professors — and not just from Ottawa.
“I do believe that through art and community, individuals have the power to bring attention to things that are important and the power to change the landscape in which we live. It’s about dialogue and hopefully that dialogue leads to some kind of action. That’s my dream.”

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Category: Diplomatica

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