Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 10, 2004, part 1.

March 31, 2010, 4:50 pm

Penny has just left in a taxi for Rideau Hall to attend the Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Awards presentation and dinner. I attended this same function in 2004. Here is a brief account.

March 10, 2004

I don’t know why I was invited? I was purchased by ArtBank that year, but it’s a bit of a mystery. As the director of SAW Video and a personal host to Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Penny has been invited three times, she is on the Rideau Hall list, but I was most likely only on a Canada Council list in 2004. It all started with a phone call. “Would you like to attend the Governor General’s Visual and Media Awards presentation and dinner at Rideau Hall?” “Why, yes I would!” I said.

The invitation arrived next day in the mail. Not having a suitable suit for the occasion, I went down to Moores and bought a nice black sports coat with matching pants. On the evening I wore a light green, button down, perma-press Carrington shirt with my lucky black tie and buffed Doc Martens Greasy Gibsons. Looking good in 2004!

Sometime before the awards dinner the GGVMA laureates were announced and I was pleased to learn that both Garry Kennedy and Eric Cameron, instructors of mine at NSCAD were selected among the awardees. Perhaps this was the key to my invitation?

The awards were to start at 4 pm, so I called a cab at 3:15 and set out for Rideau Hall. It was a lovely spring afternoon, sunny and a little humid as the taxi pulled up to the gate where I presented my invitation to an RCMP officer. After a cursory glance he waived us on up to the house. I had never been to Rideau Hall, so the visit was full of new insights for me.

The cab pulled up to the portico where a fresh-faced soldier boy opened the door. He was dressed in the red uniform of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, but I suspect he was one of those students who march in the Changing of the Guard in the summer.

I thought I was early, but as I climbed the stairs and entered the main hall I saw it was filled with guests picking up their table assignments from a desk. Taking my cue from the others I waited in line for my card. I was to sit at the Connaught table.

Presently the doors to the Ballroom opened and we were ushered in to be seated and await the ceremony. The Ballroom is the main reception room in the building where awards like the Order of Canada are given out. At that time the so-called folk art painting of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip was hanging at the front of the room.

We were ranged in rows of seats according to our precedence. The room was peculiarly dark and distinctly chilly. I thought it was me at first, I felt a bit giddy like I’d been huffing nitrous oxide but then I noticed the others were cold and perhaps a bit apprehensive too. Then suddenly bright television lights snapped on and in marched Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her consort John Raulston Saul, followed by the laureates. The room warmed up quickly under the glaring TV lights and the ceremony went off without any hitches. The laureates all made remarks. Some were a little oddball, but nothing unpleasant or sarcastic, like I’ve heard from laureates speaking at the more public, National Gallery ceremony the following evening.

The awards concluded and we were herded back into the main hall while the Ballroom was made ready for the reception. This was done with some speed and soon we were back in the room having drinks when the Clarkson-Sauls returned with the laureates and their families.

To say that Rideau Hall put on a fine reception would be an understatement. First off, the bars in the Ballroom were stocked with every conceivable beer, wine, spirit and liquor one could desire and were provided with juices, mixes and condiments to make every cocktail imaginable. I had a gin and tonic. On top of this, the room literally swarmed with black coated waiters serving delicious hot and cold hor d’oeuvres made with uncommon dainties like lobster caviar, raw shaved beef fixed in salt and tasty vegetable reductions in pastry.

Like most of the guests at the reception, I knew very few people in the room beyond a laureate or two, so I scanned the crowd for faces I recognized. I saw Ken Rockburn in the crush and went over to talk to him. I met Ken a few years before when he interviewed me on his CBC Ottawa TV show, Rockburn and Company. He is a charming guy and a great conversationalist. While we were chatting John Raulston Saul came over and stepped into the conversation. Ken introduced me to him. Though I am not an adherent of his political philosophy. I respect him for the quality of his work and was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and outgoing he was. He quizzed me a bit about my upcoming show at the Ottawa Art Gallery and said that he and Madame Clarkson would certainly go see it.

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