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Why art matters: Senator Patricia Bovey promotes a Prairie perspective on the arts
April 10, 2019

In part one of this series, Why Art Matters, Manitoba Senator Patricia Bovey, former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, shares her passion for Canadian art and for an extraordinary work by Winnipeg painter Roger Lafrenière that she chose to hang in her East Block office.

"The Zone" by Roger Lafrenière, acrylic on canvas, 2015

The painting

The work of art behind me shows a typical blue Prairie sky streaked with wisps of clouds and vapour trails. It’s by Roger Lafrenière, a significant Manitoba painter who has exhibited all across Canada, in Mexico and the U.S. His paintings are in the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Canada Council Art Bank, among others.

The Prairies — their light, space, colour, rhythms and life — are critical to Mr. Lafrenière’s work; he paints landscapes and abstracts inspired by the endless fields and skies of the West. Movement and light have become his signature.

Mr. Lafrenière was born in St. Boniface, the historic French part of Winnipeg. He grew up there and continues to live and work on the same street where he was born.

Why art matters to me

I’ve been a curator, art-museum director and art-history professor for many decades. As a Manitoba senator, I feel responsible for bringing the voices of the region — through its art, writing and music — to Parliament.

Being the first art historian and the first museum director appointed to the Senate, I feel that my job here, beyond all the legislative and committee work, is to give voice to the arts, in Canada as well as my region.

In addition, we have an amazing collection of art in the Parliamentary Precinct that, I believe, needs to be celebrated and promoted.

Senator Patricia Bovey’s East Block office features a work by Manitoba painter Roger Lafrenière, "The Zone," a 1.5 x 3-metre canvas depicting a vast contrail-streaked Prairie sky.

Why art matters to society

Artistic expression is at the core of who we are as individuals, as regions and as a nation. I believe there is not a single aspect of Canadian society that is not touched integrally by the arts.

We know, for instance, that people who attend arts events live two years longer and cost the health system less. More recent studies have shown that those same people tend to get out of hospital after elective surgery a day or two earlier.

About 10 years ago, I started a public art gallery, the Buhler Gallery, in St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. When ministers of health — of whatever political stripe — would come to me and ask what I was working on, I’d say I was helping out with hallway medicine!

Why art matters to the country

Another area I’m looking at is cultural diplomacy. Many nations have seen that the exchange of arts and artists has led to greater international understanding. I’m very grateful the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade agreed to study this initiative of mine.

We know that the arts are the third-largest employer in Canada. There are more people employed in arts and culture than there are in the auto industry, forestry or farming.

We also know that our artists are at the cutting edge in terms of social awareness and were among the first to draw attention to environmental issues — fusing recycled materials in the spirit of sustainability – and other social concerns.

We’re privileged to have such amazing work in this country and here on Parliament Hill.