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Singer-songwriter Iskwé performing at the Canada Scene launch party.

NAC unveils massive, diverse lineup for Canada Scene festival

By Josh Lemoine on April 4, 2017

The National Arts Centre unveiled the full lineup of its first Canada Scene festival, the culmination and a series of regional Scene festivals. Canada Scene from from June 15 until July 23 and features over 1,000 artists and 100 performances. The festival brings together some of the best music, theatre, dance, art and film from across Canada, with the goal of exposing it to new audiences.

“Canada Scene will be the largest gathering of Canadian artists anywhere in 2017,” says Heather Moore, Producer and Executive Director of Canada Scene. “It’s the culmination of a series of Scene festivals that we started way back in 2003. When Peter Hernndorf [president of the NAC] came onboard around 2000, he quickly recognized that we were not being the ‘National’ part of our name, that we had become rather a kind of local arts centre. We were programming for local audiences.”

“We started touring our orchestra more, but we said ‘let’s not just go across the country, let’s invite the country back to our stages. We started with Atlantic Scene in 2003, [we] invited 500 artists from four Atlantic provinces to come, and let’s break out of just the classical music, theatre and dance that we do here, let’s celebrate all of the arts in the region.”

“We were not being the ‘National’ part of our name.”

The success of Atlantic Scene led to a series of regionally-focused Scene festivals that covered the rest of the country, with Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia, the Prairies, Northern Scene, and Ontario each getting their own festivals. Canada Scene coincides with Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, and the official reopening of the NAC after its renovation.

“We’re really excited,” says Moore. “We’re Canada’s National Art Centre, and what a better way to celebrate 2017 than with our artists and their stories?”

Bringing Canadian artists together in the capital mirrors the original goals of the NAC building itself, which Moore hopes the renovations will allow it to finally achieve.

“We’re thrilled that we’re opening the building up to the public. It is everyone’s arts centre, yet we’re really only busy in the evenings, and we’ve really only been talking to people who have tickets to a show. That’s only a certain part of the population. The intent of the NAC when it was first created was that these terraces, you know, the architects had them filled with people, and it would be a gathering space and a communal space. But of course it’s Ottawa, and when it’s minus 18 [degrees] outside, that’s not happening. We’re closing that area and letting the light in, and we’re creating that public space. It’s going to be a people place that feels more like it’s theirs.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo by Trevor Brady.

Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo by Trevor Brady.

A few artists had been previously announced for Canada Scene, including greats like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Rufus Wainwright. Today’s announcement revealed nearly a thousand more artists who will join them over the course of 40 days in June and July. Moore and her team have been working on putting together this lineup since before the Ontario Scene ended in 2015, and that has involved taking time to research and find those artists that reflect their regions.

“We’re always looking for a balance between established artists and emerging artists. One of my yardsticks to measure if a festival is a success is if the artist from the region think that we got it.”

Moore hopes the festival is also able to provoke thought and discussion amongst Canadians.

“We want to make sure we include artists that are asking tough questions, and audiences tough questions. So we’ve got shows like Corey Payette’s Children of God. That’s a show about residential schools. It’s a musical, but that’s an interesting conversation that’s going to be going on. There are a lot of other shows where artists are saying, ‘Let’s not just use this time to paint our faces and be happy about Canada. Let’s give it some thought.’”


SCENE@6: a great chance to check out the new NAC atrium, this is a free concert series where you will hear some of Canada’s best in roots, world, jazz and blues (July 2–23).

Family Scene: a free theatre, dance and music series that runs every morning at 11am from July 2–23 in the NAC’s new Atrium.

Taken: Jeremy Dutcher, Lindsay ‘Eekwol’ Knight and Andrew Balfour have been commissioned by Winnipeg’s Camerata Nova choir to create works on the theme of “taken” (June 17).

Ariane Moffatt. Photo by Max Abadian.

Ariane Moffatt. Photo by Max Abadian.

Natalie MacMaster: features in a night to honour fiddling traditions from across Canada (July 8).

Ariane Moffatt: performs with the NAC Orchestra (July 14).

King Arthur: a collaboration between the NAC’s English Theatre and Neworld Theatre, Niall McNeil’s version of this story features King Arthur as a goat, who lives in a goat palace. The Knights of the Roundtable are also goats. Goats!

Theatre in The Bush: from Yukon’s Ramshackle Theatre, audiences will be literally transported to the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park for this show where they’ll get a taste of Yukon theatre, music and food (July 20–22).

CLOUD: in the NAC lobby, a large-scale interactive artwork made from 6,000 lightbulbs, by Caitlin Brown and Wayne Garrett. The piece incorporates hundreds of pull-strings to create a simple, bright, and playfully collaborative work.

For the full Canada Scene festival lineup, visit To listen to Apt613’s full interview with Heather Moore, stream it on Soundcloud