National Arts Centre

The National Arts Centre (NAC) (French: Centre national des Arts) is a Canadian centre for the performing arts located in Ottawa, Ontario, between Elgin Street and the Rideau Canal. The National Arts Centre was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006.[1][2]

National Arts Centre
Centre national des Arts
Address1 Elgin Street
LocationOttawa, Ontario, Canada
Coordinates45°25′23″N 075°41′38″W
Public transit Rideau
OwnerGovernment of Canada
TypeArts centre
Broke ground1965
OpenedMay 31, 1969 (1969-05-31)
Construction cost$46 million
ArchitectFred Lebensold
Official name: National Arts Centre National Historic Site of Canada
Reference no.9091


Ottawa did not have a major performing arts venue after 1928 when the National Capital Commission expropriated and demolished the Russell Theatre to make way for Confederation Square. Performers and orchestras visiting the capital were required to use the stage of the Capitol Cinema, which had been designed for vaudeville and films. In 1963, G. Hamilton Southam and Levi Pettler founded the National Capital Arts Alliance with the goal of creating suitable venue. They successfully convinced the city and government to build the new centre.

The NAC was one of a number of projects launched by the government of Lester B. Pearson to commemorate Canada's 1967 centenary. It opened its doors to the public for the first time on 31 May 1969, at a cost of C$46 million.[3] The site at one time was home to Ottawa City Hall, and the city donated the land to the federal government. Conductor Jean-Marie Beaudet served as the NAC's first music director (1969-1971). In June 2010, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a life-size bronze statue of the Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson outside the NAC during her royal tour of Canada.[4]

In February 2014, the centre unveiled a new logo and slogan, Canada is our stage, in preparation for its fiftieth anniversary in 2019. The former logo had been designed by Ernst Roch and was in use since the centre's opening.[5]

In October 2015, initial talks about plans to develop an Indigenous theatre were held between NAC leadership, Indigenous performers and community leaders from across Canada with the aim of making Indigenous theatre a core activity of the National Arts Centre.[6] In June 2017, Kevin Loring was hired to be the first artistic director of the NAC Indigenous Theatre department, and Lori Marchard was appointed the first managing director of the department soon after. Along with Lindsay Lachance, an artistic associate as well, the Indigenous Theatre department works to increase the representation of Indigenous peoples through theatre and providing further space and resources for Indigenous actors and playwrights to thrive. To date, over $1 million was raised for the establishment of the Indigenous theatre department through a tribute dinner hosted by the NAC in June 2018.[7] The first full season by the Indigenous theatre department will begin in fall 2019.[6]


The building, designed by Fred Lebensold, is in the Brutalist style and is based on the shape of a triangle and hexagon. The building is constructed of reinforced concrete. The exterior and many interior walls are faced with precast concrete panels containing exposed aggregate of crushed brown Laurentian granite.[2] The centre rises from a base that sits on a 950-space underground parking garage. The base houses offices, lobbies, dressing rooms, workshops and a restaurant. The site slopes from Elgin Street to the Rideau Canal allowing for a second underground level overlooking the canal. The roof of the base forms a multi-level terrace containing gardens that are open to the public and connects to the Mackenzie King Bridge. The three main performance spaces rise from the base as a series of hexagonal structures also faced with brown precast panels in a variety of textures. Windows are tall, narrow slits framed by vertical ribs. The hexagonal theme flows through the interior and appears in ceilings, light fixtures and flooring. Lobbies and stairwells house several major pieces of visual art.

Plans for the centre included an organ in Southam Hall; however, funding did not permit this. On 17 March 1970, the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, a Dutch-Canadian Committee presented two organs purchased as the result of its Operation Thankyou Canada. The 21-stop concert organ and positiv organ were both constructed by the Flentrop Orgelbouw of Zaandam and given in gratitude for the role played by Canadian troops in the liberation of the Netherlands. The concert organ premiered in a recital 7 October 1973 by Albert de Klerk.[8]

In 2000, the NAC was named by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada as one of the top 500 buildings produced in Canada during the last millennium.[9]

In 2014, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced a $110 million facelift of the NAC. At construction, the centre was oriented toward a planned lagoon on the east, which was never constructed. The work would expand meeting and event facilities, install entrances and windows to reorient the focus toward Parliament Hill, and upgrade washroom facilities.[10] The renovated centre opened 1 July 2017 for Canada's 150th Anniversary.[11]


English Theatre

French Theatre


The NAC Orchestra is a world class ensemble of outstanding classical musicians from across Canada and around the world, under the inspiring leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley. Since its debut in 1969 at the opening of Canada’s National Arts Centre, the Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its groundbreaking educational programs, and its leadership in nurturing Canadian creativity.


NAC Presents

Indigenous Theatre

Kevin Loring is the current director of the Indigenous Theatre. Loring is Nlaka’pamux from Lytton BC a small town in the Fraser Canyon and was born November 24, 1974 (43). His first published play “Where The Blood Mixes” won the Governor General's Award for English- Language Drama in 2009. He graduated from Studio 58, Langara College’s professional theatre program and is the Artistic Director of The Savage Society. Loring has been in acting and writing since 2003 and has participated in many plays whether it be acting or directing. Other notable works that he has written are Thanks for Giving (Arts Club Theatre Company) and The Pipeline Project (The Savage Society). Both of which have been performed in various cities across Canada. Some works that he has acted in have included Children of God[12] a musical written by Corey Payette, TV shows Health Nutz and Mohawk Girls along with the 2007 film Pathfinder. Loring believes in helping support young artists in their work in contemporary theatre. So they can express their own present day ideas and perspectives but also keep connection to their traditions of storytelling while participating in contemporary forms of expression[13]. When asked what Indigenous theatre is he says that it is “Our stories told and performed through the lense of Indigenous people".[14]

Notable figures in the Indigenous theatre department include:

Artistic aims and performances

One of the largest performing arts facilities in Canada, the National Arts Centre displays ballets, orchestras, theatre and musical performances. At 1,158,000 sq ft (107,600 m2), the NAC works with thousands of artists, both emerging and established, from across Canada and around the world, and collaborates with dozens of other arts organizations across the country. The NAC operates in the performing arts fields of classical music, English theatre, French theatre, Indigenous theatre, dance, variety, and community programming. The NAC supports programs for young and emerging artists and programs for young audiences, and producing resources and study materials for teachers. The NAC is the only multidisciplinary, multilingual, performing arts centre in North America, and one of the largest in the world.

The National Arts Centre is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, considered one of the world's leading classical-size orchestras. Alexander Shelley, a conductor, pianist, cellist and teacher, has been the orchestra's music director since 2015. The artistic director of English Theatre is Jillian Keiley; the artistic director of French Theatre is Brigitte Haentjens; Cathy Levy is the executive producer of dance; Heather Moore is producer and executive director of the Scene Festivals; Heather Gibson is producer of NAC Presents. The National Arts Centre produces nine podcasts[15] in both official languages. They cover French and English Theatre, Classical and Contemporary Canadian music. The NAC has since created an Indigenous Theatre discipline. On June 15, 2017, Kevin Loring was announced as the first Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre.

Kurt Waldele was executive chef for two decades, up to his death in 2009. His successor Michael Blackie, was responsible for creating "Celebrity Chefs of Canada" which ran for the both 2011 and 2012. In late 2012 Michael left the NAC to develop his own business in Ottawa located in the west end called NeXT. In 2013, John Morris was promoted to the position executive chef. John Morris worked under chefs David Garcelon, Michael Blackie and Steven Gugelmeier. Kenton Leier was appointed as Executive Chef, effective July 26, 2017.[16]

The National Arts Centre is co-producer of the Canada Dance Festival and co-founder of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which it operates in partnership with the Canadian Theatre Festival Society. The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is an annual event first held in Ottawa in 2003, where it is held every second year, being held in other Canadian cities in the alternating years. The festival offers not only productions and performances for the theatre-going public, but offers workshops and seminars aimed at theatre students and professionals

Performance facilities

The NAC has four stages:

  • Southam Hall[17], with 2,065 seats, is the largest stage and is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra as well as ballet and other major visiting shows and productions.
  • Babs Asper Theatre[18], with 897 seats, is mostly used for theatre and dance events, plus some concerts. It is home to the English-language and French-language theatre companies.
  • Azrieli Studio[19], with 250-300 seats, is a theatre venue and musical concert space suited for performances requiring a more intimate space.
  • Fourth Stage[20], with 150 seats, opened in 2001 and was completely rebuilt in 2016-17, reopening in October, 2017. It is home to most NAC Presents concerts and a wide variety of community programming.[21][22][23]

See also


  1. National Arts Centre, Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada
  2. "National Arts Centre National Historic Site of Canada". Canada's Historic Places. 27 November 2006. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
  3. Barrie, Judy. "40,000 agog but centre's debut shaky", Ottawa Citizen, June 2, 1969, p. 13
  4. Knelman, Martin (29 June 2010). "Knelman: Oscar Peterson's piano lives on in Ottawa". Toronto Star. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  5. Adams, Jane (February 26, 2014). "National Arts Centre unveils first new logo in 45 years". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 2015-06-23.
  6. "Information archivée dans le Web" (PDF). (in French). Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  7. "NAC Foundation Raises More Than $1 million to Support the NAC's New Indigenous Theatre Department" (Press release). Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  8. "Two Flentrop Organs are gifts of the Dutch-Canadian Community to Canada". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
  9. Cook, Marcia (11 May 2000). "Cultural consequence". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 30 May 2010. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  10. Chase, Steven (25 March 2017). "Feds unveil $110-million reno job for National Arts Centre". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  11. Robb, Peter (9 February 2016). "NAC renovation will finish with a flourish; massive arts festival planned for summer 2017". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  12. "Review: Children of God is must-see theatre for Canadians". Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  13. "Savage Society | Mission/Mandate/Artistic Statement". Savage Production Society | Indigenous Theatre & Media. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  14. "Announcement / Dévoilement: Kevin Loring, Artistic Director, Indigenous Theatre / Théâtre autochtone". National Arts Centre. 2017-06-16. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  15. nine Podcasts
  16. Hum, Peter (October 24, 2017). "New NAC Chef Kenton Leier brings humility and teamwork to the table". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  17. "Southam Hall". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  18. "Babs Asper Theatre". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  19. "Azrieli Studio". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  20. "Fourth Stage". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  21. "NAC Box Office". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  22. "Performance Hall Rentals". National Arts Centre. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  23. Robb, Peter (14 October 2015). "Cash crisis causes Opera Lyra to cease operations". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 4 April 2018.

Further reading

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