From Mission to Execution: A Look Inside the National Arts Centre's Programming

by Gabriella Clarke and Kati Sainté

Ottawa, Canada's capital city, had a need for a facility made for the sole purpose of showcasing the performing arts on a national stage. Other countries around the world had national institutions of this type, but Canada had yet to establish itself on a world stage in this manner and as the centenary of the country approached, it became clear that a national space for the performing arts would be a wonderful gift to the country and its citizens (Jennings 2009). As cemented in the National Arts Centre Act, "The objects of the Corporation are to operate and maintain the Centre, to develop the performing arts in the National Capital Region described in the schedule to the National Capital Act and to assist the Canada Council for the Arts in the development of the performing arts elsewhere in Canada'' (National Arts Centre 1985).

The National Arts Centre opened its doors to the public in June 1969, two years following Canada's Centennial celebration. While a major focus of the NAC's music programming centered on orchestra and opera, the Centre also had plans to showcase popular music programming on its stages. In the first seven years of programming, the NAC worked to cultivate its place in popular music programming and, at the same time, showcase music from the country and around the world. 

This exhibit explores their early programming initiatives and considers how their programming represented Canadian identity. Drawing on data from the NAC's annual reports from 1969 to1976, we curated a dataset that captures all of the popular music performances that took place on the institution's stages. Looking at the race/ethnicity, gender and nationality of artists that performed on its stages, this project reflects on how the NAC fulfilled its mandate to showcase a "high standard" of music that expressed Canada's culture and heritage.