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” (Jennings 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.
The year 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Arts Centre. In celebration of local cultural heritage institutions, the students in Advanced Research in Music (MUS4928) spent the semester conducting original source-based research in the archives of the National Arts Centre and at Library and Archives Canada. By bringing together the history, policy, and events of the NAC, the course projects celebrate the NAC’s vast contributions to Canadian musical culture, to Canada's musical stage.
- Jada Watson, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Arts
- Roxanne Lafleur, Library and Audiovisual Support Specialist
- Robert VanderBerg, Archivist-Curator, Visual Arts and Exhibitions, National Ars Centre
- Sophie Tellier, Reference Archivist, Library and Archives Canada