By Stephania Romaniuk

Masters Gallery’s Ryan Green on Supporting The Orchestra and Building Art Appreciation Amongst Calgarians

Like his father before him, Calgary Philharmonic champion donor Ryan Green has a way of making people feel comfortable in a space and dissolving barriers to belonging. “His strength was in appreciating, understanding, and being there for people,” shares Ryan about his father, Rod Green. These values are now felt in the professional work, educational ventures, and very atmosphere of the fine art gallery Ryan has led since 2017. 

Masters Gallery was founded in 1976 by Peter Ohler Sr., a Grey Cup-winning quarterback for the BC Lions as well as a poet, philosopher, and English literature major. Rod was working as a marine biologist, immersed in the natural world Canadian artists were painting, when he met Peter and joined the gallery team. The two men, followed eventually by each of their sons, built a successful venture on the idea that “art need not be intimidating, and it need not break the bank.” Now one of Canada’s leading art galleries with an international reputation, Masters Gallery has helped generations of Calgarians build and curate thoughtful collections of artwork and investments, all the while serving the broader community through philanthropy. 

The gallery’s first partnership with the Calgary Philharmonic began in 1999, when the orchestra debuted its signature fine art fundraising event, Cork and Canvas. Since then, the gallery has secured select artwork for auction and appraised other fine art donations for the Orchestra. When Ryan became sole owner of Masters Gallery, he knew immediately that he wanted to continue working with the Orchestra. In fact, after attending another Calgary Phil event, he decided to pledge additional funds over several years.

Most recently, Masters Gallery has begun partnering with the Calgary Phil for Music to My Ears. These events are often hosted at the gallery, where Ryan collaborates with a Calgary Phil musician or conductor. Through discussions and demonstrations, they explore an arts-related theme through music and visual arts in an informal and accessible setting. The first Music to My Ears event at Masters explored Impressionism through works by both visual artists and composers. The second featured an imaginative pairing between the music of Leonard Bernstein and mid-century modern paintings by Calgarian visual artist Marion Nicoll. 

An important trailblazer, Marion Nicoll was the first female abstract artist in the province and one of the first artists whose works were shown at Masters Gallery in the 1970s. Her relationship to Peter Ohler Sr., the gallery’s founder, was so significant that on her passing in 1985, she left him all her letters. “After pouring over Marion’s letters for hours, our gallery researcher Caitlyn Rinne discovered a letter from 1958 where Marion mentioned attending a New York Philharmonic concert conducted by Bernstein. We had evidence they were in the same room. We were all so excited. It was an amazing feeling,” shares Ryan.

Since becoming more involved with the Orchestra, Ryan has had the opportunity to deepen his own burgeoning interest in classical music. “Several years ago, I had a really amazing experience in Greece, in a tholos, one of these round tombs. Somebody spoke a few words, and the sound — how it reverberated — was like nothing I’d ever heard before. This culture was about 3,000 years old. How did they understand acoustics? How did they create this space? It excites me that there is a history that relates to what the Calgary Phil is doing because you have a hall, an audience, instruments, and vibrations. All of these things are present.”

Ryan’s background and intuition in the visual arts were guided by Dr. David Bershad, a long-time professor of Renaissance art history at the University of Calgary. “He opened up a new world for me. I learned new ways of seeing and appreciating image-making and its importance for our history. Every lecture was a new discovery, and I take that sense of wonder with me every day to the gallery.”

Just as Ryan was mentored by important figures like Dr. Bershad, Peter Ohler Sr., and his own father, Ryan now serves as a mentor to the next generation of arts learners. In a partnership with the Calgary Board of Education, Ryan leads a series called Young Masters, which brings young students to Masters Gallery. “The first thing I say is, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. Just look around.’ And then we meet wherever we meet and explore what they are seeing,” Ryan explains. “We love nothing more than for people to interact with art,” Ryan shares. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.