Linking Culture(s) is a project dedicated to source-based research in the NAC archives by students at the University of Ottawa. Since 2019, students have conducted archival research at the NAC, drawing together the history, policy, and events of the NAC to celebrate the institution’s vast contributions to Canadian culture.

Canada’s National Arts Centre opened its doors to the Canadian public on 2 June 1969. It was a grand affair, with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, members of Parliament, the cultural elite and general public in attendance for the inaugural first concert. Despite the grandeur of the weekend events, the NAC’s establishment was mired in controversy: construction fell behind in schedule, the final cost was $37.1 million over the original $9 million budget, with many politicians and citizens frustrated by the elevated cost of the concert hall. Others, notably Secretary of State Gérard Pelletier, were unimpressed by the cultural elitism of the production, stating that he didn’t want the NAC to be “snobbish” (Sarah Jennings, Art and Politics, 10).

Despite these initial frustrations, the NAC has become an important cultural institution for Canada, actively supporting the production, creation, dissemination of Canadian art. Developed by then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as a gift for Canada centenary celebrations, the NAC filled an important cultural need within the nation’s capital. Not only was the city of Ottawa lacking a major performing arts venue, but the nation’s cultural policy written in the form of the Massey Commission (1951), advocated the need of a central venue for creation, promoting, and staging Canadian cultural works in both official languages – reflecting our nation’s linguistic duality. It is also uniquely a space in which all creative arts (music, theatre, and dance) from traditional, classical, and popular spheres interact on a national stage.

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the National Arts Centre and a year later their programming was moved online in response to Covid-19. Throughout the pandemic, they delivered a variety of programs and services via different virtual platforms, showing the world that they remained Canada’s stage – uniting the country online.

Evolution of the project

Linking Culture(s) had evolved since it was first launched in January 2017 as a space for students in the School of Information Studies to publish projects emerging from their courses with Dr. Jada Watson.

The first group of students (Winter 2017), in Cultural Heritage Resources, students explored the University of Ottawa’s archival collections. From rare books documenting the voyages of early explorers, to photographs capturing life and culture in rural French-Canadian communities, to a wealth of materials related to the history of women in Canada, the University’s archives offer the opportunity to create a cultural map of the country’s history in the year of its 150th anniversary. Through the Discovering the University of Ottawa Archives project, research groups in the Cultural Heritage Resources seminar in the School of Information Studies sifted through, collected, and catalogued artefacts from the University of Ottawa Library Archives and Special Collections (ARCS) and the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française (CRCCF) with the goal of curating interactive exhibits chronicling stories about Canada. Explore their projects here!

 The following year (Winter 2018), students in The Publishing Business undertook a project of researching, writing, peer-reviewing, editing and self-publishing an eBook about the constantly transforming world of publishing.  Explore their collaborate self-published book project, Moving through the Grey: Publishing in Action.

 In Fall 2019, students in Cultural Heritage Resources undertook a project on digital preservation. Working with Marina Bokovay from the Library’s Archives and Special Collections to research and write digital preservation guides and then had the opportunity to follow the workflow that they designed with archival materials from fonds at ARCS. Students were able to evaluate their own workflow, make modifications to their guides and learn more about the process through actually using the tools in class. Check out their work here.

Finally, in 2019, Dr. Jada Watson began collaborating with Robert VanderBerg, Archivist Curator at the NAC. In the years that followed, the course evolved into a space in which students pursued projects in the NAC Archives, linking culture to history and policy. Explore Canada's Stage, a collection of projects documenting the musical performance history of the NAC.