Cynthia O'Brien

#CouncilSpotlight – Cynthia O'Brien

Jennifer Clark

Cynthia O’Brien: Determination

The Ottawa Arts Council supports artists and arts organizations through leadership, guidance and the provision of opportunities to advance our local creative potential.

Our series #CouncilSpotlight presents stories and experiences of Arts Council members and art award recipients.

Cynthia received the Ottawa Arts Council Mid-Career Artist Award in 2008.

Cynthia O'Brien

Where are you from? Are you from the Ottawa area?

Centretown, Ottawa

How did you get involved in the Ottawa arts community?

I returned to Ottawa from travelling and knew no one, so I volunteered (Ottawa Potters Guild, Art in the Park), helped start some grass roots organizations (CAT, Centretown Art Tour, COAT, Central Ottawa Art Tour,  Chinatown Remixed) and slowly made friends and joined other organizations such as Blink Collective and the Ottawa Arts Council.  I found jobs within the arts and slowly found a supportive home base for my work.

How would you describe your artistic practice/discipline?

I am a practicing clay artist who is interested in installation and performance.

What impact has your involvement with the arts/the Ottawa arts community had on your life?

When I first moved back to Ottawa I had time to give and I gave. In return Ottawa has given back to me ten fold. I have found jobs, cultural support and lasting relationships. I may be more selfish with my time now but I am still giving back through teaching, exhibiting, public talks and my practice itself. I have been a success thanks in part to the Ottawa arts community.

Is there a specific moment/situation in your art career that you remember fondly?

I had a great WOW moment when my work went to the Taiwan Ceramic Biennale, 2016. I traveled to Taiwan and was overwhelmed by the fact that an Ottawa gal could find herself in Asia, the heart of clay, with her very own work on a plinth in a spotlight. That was a great feeling.

Do you have any advice for artists in the Ottawa community or artists in general?

Work for twenty years and if you are not making what you want or not where you want to be, work for another twenty years (advice from my university instructor).

What are you currently working on?

I'm working on two projects right now.  One being large abstracted vessels that will be a focus of an Artist Residency at MASS MoCA in the USA, March 2018.  The second is a collaborative exhibition with Barbara Brown and Judith Parker call "Life Cycle Conversations" at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in November 2018.

What was it like to receive an award from the Ottawa Arts Council? How did it impact your career?

Winning the award was great.  I had just had a solo exhibition at City Hall Gallery and a Public Art Commission and then the award, wow! To be noticed and then honoured in this way, by the community I live and work in, was wonderful. It gave me the confidence to keep going.

Want to learn more about Cynthia and find out where you can see her work? Visit or follow @cynbobin on Instagram.

Nominations for the Ottawa Arts Council Mid-Career Artist Award are open for applications until March 15, 2018.

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