Photos by @globerman
Some 400 people inaugurated the National Arts Centre’s new Canada Room reception hall Thursday night with a star-studded retirement party for long-time President and CEO Peter Herrndorf. The dinner celebration brought together luminaries from the worlds of politics, business and the arts, each of whom shelled out between $250 and $1,000 to pay tribute to the NAC’s venerated leader and to raise more than $1 million for the institution’s planned Department of Indigenous Theatre.
Herrndorf took the helm of the NAC in 1999 after an already-illustrious career. He had been a Vice President at the CBC, publisher of Toronto Life magazine and the Chairman and CEO of TVOntario. The NAC was mired in dysfunction at the time, beset by a wide-spread feeling it had lost its way amidst a revolving door of leaders. After some initial hesitation, he took on the job and never looked back. At Thursday’s event he called the move “the best professional decision I would ever make.”
Herrndorf revitalized the centre, giving it a national profile and connecting the NAC with arts groups across the country. He established the biennial Scene festivals to showcase Canada’s regions, attracted more than $150 million in donations as he made fundraising a priority, oversaw more than $200 million in renovations that have and continue to reshape the building, and created the new Indigenous Theatre department. At an investiture ceremony at Rideau Hall in January, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the award’s highest honour.
Not surprisingly, Herrndorf’s farewell celebration featured performances by an array of artists: pianist Angela Hewitt, jazz-blues vocalist Molly Johnson and singer Chantal Kreviazuk. Actor Colm Feore acted as Master of Ceremonies.
Speakers, including Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and NAC Chair Adrian Burns, effusively praised Herrndorf for his accomplishments. National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations offered an honour song and blanketed Herrndorf to “help guide and protect him on his journey.”
Addressing the guests at the end of the evening, Herrndorf recalled coming to Canada from the Netherlands in 1947 while still a child and developing a profound love for his new country. He made a point of sharing the credit for his success at the NAC by naming dozens of managers over the years and thanking staff members from technicians to ushers. He also expressed his appreciation to his family, NAC donors and finally, the many artists who have filled the centre’s theatres with their music, dance, plays and other creations. “Even in the difficult times it never stopped being fun,” he told the crowd.
Herrndorf is scheduled to retire from the NAC June 2. A successor has yet to be named. For his part, the 77-year-old Herrndorf is not ready to put his feet up just yet. He’s already set to be Chairman of Toronto’s Luminato arts festival and has two other jobs lined up that he plans to reveal later.