Cultural Diplomacy at Carleton

Manon Gaudet

“[Art] is a universal language in our search for common ground, an expression of shared humanity.”—Hillary Clinton, “The Diplomacy of Art,” Vanity Fair, February 2013.

Approaching Lornado, the residence of the American Ambassador to Canada, is nothing if not intimidating. As we rounded the winding driveway, Lornado came into view. A thirty-two room, two-and-a-half story limestone manor built in 1908, Lornado is a spectacular sight to say the least.[1] I asked myself how I came to be driving towards its imposing façade. The answer requires some background.

I was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1992…okay, so maybe not that much background. I am a first year MA student in Art History at Carleton University. A week or so before my imminent approach towards Lornado, Dr. Ming Tiampo informed me that I was one of three students selected by the faculty to interview for the position of ‘residence curator’ at the residence of the American Ambassador. The details were fuzzy at first (in a haze of my own excitement), but they soon became clear as I prepared for my interview.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman and Vicki Heyman, his partner and for all intents and purposes co-ambassador, arrived in Ottawa in the spring of 2014. They have been active figures in the city, and across the country, ever since. Even before her arrival, Vicki Heyman began to think about the cultural side of her new diplomatic endeavor. With an undergraduate background in Art History, Vicki Heyman conceived of an art exhibition in the residence. To display art in the residence is not in itself a novel idea. The U.S. State Department has pioneered a program called Art in Embassies for over 5 decades. First envisioned by the Museum of Modern Art, it was formalized under President John F. Kennedy in 1963.[2] The Art in Embassies (AIE) mission is to foster “vital cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and dynamic artist exchange.”[3]

Working with curators at AIE, Vicki Heyman and her assistant Gillian Frackelton put together a diverse exhibition according to a single self-imposed requirement: Artists selected must be living contemporary American artists, whose works speak across borders. They determined that there are few things more cross-culturally comprehensible than issues of “race, culture, isolation, assimilation and vulnerability.”[4] They selected ten works by eight living American artists who respond to these cross-cultural challenges. Many artists, private collectors, and galleries generously made works available to the exhibition. Two of the pieces included in the exhibition belong to the Heymans’ own rich collection, which is a testament to their enduring dedication to the arts.

The novel part of the exhibition emerges from the Heymans’ requirement that the featured artists be living. Vicki Heyman and Gillian Frackelton have worked tirelessly to arrange for artists in the Contemporary Conversations exhibition to do as the title suggests—converse about their art with diverse audiences. These conversations are taking place in the form of public lectures at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). Upcoming speakers at the NGC include Nick Cave on May 28, 2015, Eric Fischl on September 10, 2015 and Stephen Wilkes on November 19, 2015.

In conjunction with these public events, Vicki Heyman has sought to give as many people as possible the opportunity to view the art in the residence. To facilitate this dedication to openness, the residence curator was asked to organize three ‘salons.’ These salons were intended to be loose reinterpretations of the 18th-century enlightenment age salon, using the art exhibited as a touchstone and impetus for conversation among diverse groups of people.

This brings me back to the cab outside of Lornado. It was the day of my interview. I paid my cab driver and tried to play it cool when the butler opened the door. I quickly discarded my winter boots (a staple of every Canadian’s business attire) before being met by Vicki Heyman and Gillian Frackelton. I was put at ease by their warmth and positive vision for the project, but I was kept on my toes by their questions about my own vision for the salons. After a tour of the art in the exhibition and the Heymans’ personal collection—including a Campbell’s soup can wrapper that Vicki once had signed by Andy Warhol—I got in the cab, drove away, and called my mother to tell her about the butler!

Shortly after my interview, I found out that I would share the title of residence curator with a second year student named Cayllan Cassavia. Cayllan and I were both relieved to have someone else with whom to share this new experience and set out planning our first event (the details of which will have to wait for the second chapter of my embassy adventure). Our first task would be serving as docents at the opening reception. This reception was to follow a series of Contemporary Conversation events featuring the first artist visitor, Marie Watt. Marie Watt is a mutli-media artist of Seneca descent, whose work “explores human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects.”[5] Watt spoke at the NGC, participated in a panel at Carleton University titled “Indigenizing the Gallery,” and led a sewing circle at the NGC to help construct an upcoming installation.

Cayllan, our recruited volunteers, and myself donned our best business black and stationed ourselves near our favourite artists’ work as people filed into the residence. I stood next to a beautiful work called Transforming (1995) by Hung Liu, an artist I had written about during my undergraduate degree. You’ll hear more about her in a later post. Throughout the course of the evening, I mingled, explained and discussed the art with a wide array of people. These included representatives from the Canada Council Art Bank, the Michäel Jean Foundation, a local grassroots arts organization, as well as curators from the NGC. At the end of the night, I once again sat in a cab, watching the façade of Lornado disappear and reflecting on my gratitude to everyone involved in this remarkable opportunity.

Check out my next post to hear more about what happens when the Ambassador of the United States to Canada and Vicki Heyman let two Masters students host an event in their home.

[1] “A History: A Written History of Lornado, The U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Ottawa, ON, Located on 10 Acres of Grounds in the Neighborhood of Rockcliffe Park,” Lornado: Residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Ottawa, ON, compiled by Gillian Frackelton, 2.

[2] “Mission Statement,” U.S. Department of State, Art in Embassies, accessed April 25, 2015,

[3] “History,” U.S. Department of State, Art in Embassies, accessed April 25, 2015,

[4] Contemporary Conversations, edited by Art in Embassies, 2015, exhibition catalogue, 4.

[5] “Artist Statement,” Marie Watt, PDX Contemporary Art,