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President and CEO Christopher Deacon reflects upon the previous NAC season. Screenshot.

National Art Centre’s Annual Public Meeting announces push to become barrier-free and open to all

By Madeline Paiva on March 3, 2020


The National Arts Centre’s Annual Public Meeting took place in Peter A. Herrndorf Place at the NAC on February 27th, 2020. The press conference with Christopher Deacon, President and CEO; Annabelle Cloutier, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs and Corporate Secretary, Adrian Burns, Chair of the NAC Board of Trustees; and Heather Gibson, Executive Producer of Popular Music and Variety Programming, recapped the NAC’s past 50th anniversary season and discussed their next steps in the upcoming season.

The press conference began with a few exciting words from Annabelle Cloutier: “There was some big news today with the announcement of the Laureates of Canada’s highest honour in performing arts.” The Laureates of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards had been announced that morning with a lot of excitement, especially at Catherine O’Hara’s and Ryan Reynolds’ announcements. Adrian Burns remarked that “Ryan Reynolds is all I hear in the hallway as I walk by for meetings.”

I was particularly struck by Christopher Deacon’s announcement that “we want to make real advancements in becoming barrier-free.” The NAC directs much of their efforts to addressing barriers to the performing arts, and I think they have been immensely successful.

“To our audiences, we are immensely grateful to you for your support of this institution. You, in turn, enrich the artists on stage,” Deacon said.

Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Anabelle Cloutier speaks at the NAC’s Annual Public Meeting. Screenshot.

It was announced that the NAC, in their 2018-2019 season had 1451 shows and events, and 996,328 visitors—a remarkable feat! Deacon spoke of the historic launch of Indigenous Theatre, the Big Bang Festival, and the NAC Orchestra’s European tour.

“Today we are setting our sights on the NAC’s next 50 years. We’ve been working on our new strategic plan that will take us from 2020 to 2025. We will release that in June, but I want to give you a sneak peek tonight to impart a sense of the direction we’re headed. To inspire Canadians through the power of story and creation. Stories can heal, they can inspire, they can teach,” Deacon remarked.

“NAC etait ouvert au tous, regardless of if you had a ticket.”

It is plainly evident that the NAC puts immense work into accessibility in many forms, whether that be addressing ticketing barriers, opening up public spaces, or confronting the general systemic barriers and boundaries that have been longstanding in the performing arts. The NAC’s forthcoming release of their strategic plan in June will be a welcome addition to their already valiant efforts.

Deacon also discussed another of the NAC’s initiatives—reducing waste. The new “compostable drink and food containers divert 500,000 containers from landfill every year,” Deacon said—“nous sommes fiers de cette initiative.”

“I like to talk about the performing arts as stories on stage. It’s not a perfect analogy when you think of the truly abstract work, but it captures much of what we do. And the creation of new stories and new art is of vital importance to the NAC,” Deacon said. “But why would our priority at the National Arts Centre be to inspire? Perhaps, it’s obvious. It hearkens back to my thanks a moment ago to audiences for completing that virtuous circle of communion between artist and audience.”

The next step for the NAC is focusing even more on Canadians and Canadian art: “In our next five years, we want to place our top priority on engaging Canadians, more Canadians, in that magical experience. We will renew our investment in engaging artistic work on our stages, online, and across Canada,” said Deacon.

The NAC president discussed the National Creation Fund, in which the NAC has invested “$5.4 million in 35 ambitious new works.” Deacon listed some of the notable works including Unikkaaqtuat and the dance piece Revisor by Kid Pivot. “That will be another pillar of our next strategic plan, by way of helping Canadian artists succeed on the world stage.”

Heather Gibson discussed accessibility further in her portion of the conference. She said, “NAC etait ouvert au tous, regardless of if you had a ticket.” A lot of focus of the Annual Public Meeting was on the NAC as a space to gather, to work, or for any other number of reasons, regardless of if you have a ticket to a show. She mentioned initiatives like Toddler Tuesdays, guided tours, Pow Wow Workout, and Gyrokinesis—“use our space and feel at home here,” she said.

“We are completely seized with that question of how we make it easy for people to come.” 

Cloutier opened the floor to questions at the end: “we’re here to hear you.” I was interested in knowing what their next steps in tackling accessibility to performing arts outside of the under-29 Live Rush ticketing program, and was excited to pose the question to the team. Cloutier directed my question to Shannon Urie, Acting Executive Director of Marketing.

“In terms of accessibility, there are many opportunities to take in the NAC. First of all, the public spaces that you saw, and we offer many programs through the public spaces. So, on a weekly and daily basis there are many ways to experience the performing arts in many aspects. In terms of financial accessibility, our subscriptions are the best way to get the best pricing—we offer 15% off or more, depending on how much you purchase. And then just a whole wide range of other events where we have accessible pricing at the $29 price point across all of our programs that’s available to all. We also have what’s called an All My Relations ticket—$15 for any Indigenous people,” Urie explained.

I had the opportunity to speak with Deacon, Urie, and Lori Marchand, Managing Director of Indigenous Theatre after the press conference. Each of them had wonderful things to say about the NAC and their initiatives, each elaborating on answers provided to my question posed earlier.

Marchand said that “the All My Relations ticket is huge and it’s something that’s available for every single production. In terms of talking about public space, public space has been such a wonderful opportunity for us as well. We have also had arts markets—they get to showcase their works to a public without a fee, without an entrance charge.” Urie jumped in to say “to see the community come out is so wonderful.”

Next, Deacon came over to say “I like the question!” He joined our conversation and elaborated on some of his thoughts on my question.

“So, I was thinking about this place five years ago and I think a few things have happened,” said the NAC president. “The architecture has really changed the way the institution relates to the public and communities, and of course the programming has changed so much with Heather Gibson’s work and with Indigenous Theatre. It’s funny how much in just a few years has happened. And you put the question for people over 29—so, I mean, we are completely seized with that question of how we make it easy for people to come.”