The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) was founded in the late 1980s in response to years of lobbying and organizing on the part of Ottawa artists who felt they needed a municipal gallery to better represent the local artistic energy. It was finally achieved in September 1988, with its opening as the Gallery at Arts Court. In 1992, the City of Ottawa acquired the Firestone Art Collection (now called the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art), an important local private collection of national twentieth-century artworks. Custodianship of the Collection was transferred to the recently renamed Ottawa Art Gallery, which received designation as Ottawa’s municipal art gallery as part of the agreement.
The same year, a group of energetic volunteers established the Gallery's ART Rental and Sales, designed to supplement OAG’s fledgling acquisitions program meant to build a permanent collection of contemporary art significant to the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The incorporation of the Gallery as an independent charitable organization took place in 1993, with the election of its first Board of Directors.
In the mid-1990s, annual funding from additional government agencies provided a more solid financial foundation for our evolving contemporary public programs. As the Gallery's annual budget increases incrementally, so has the number of staff, programs and services, allowing more people to participate through a variety of activities and events. Innumerable compelling exhibitions have taken place since its opening. Organized over the years by the Gallery’s dynamic curators, as well as renowned guest curators, exciting, and at times daring, exhibitions have presented the work of local, national and international artists in both group and solo shows. Works from the Gallery's growing Permanent Collection as well as the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art are regularly exhibited at the OAG, borrowed by other museums across the country for exhibitions, and loaned for special display in institutions such as the Senate of Canada, Rideau Hall and the Ottawa Convention Centre. OAG’s current focus is to establish itself in a new building that will allow it to better serve the local artistic community.