Christopher Deacon named NAC president and CEO

Christopher Deacon awaits announcement he will be new CEO of the NAC. Photo: Peter Robb

The National Arts Centre board of trustees has decided to go with continuity in their choice of the man who will lead the centre into the future.

Christopher Deacon, the managing director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, is the new president and CEO.

Deacon, 59, was born in Montreal, Quebec and has more than 35 years of professional experience managing orchestras, including 22 years with NACO. He is the first person in the NAC’s 49-year history to be promoted from within the organization to the top job. 

“The NAC conducted a rigorous and disciplined search to find the best arts executive to lead Canada’s National Arts Centre,” said Adrian Burns, Chair of the Board of Trustees, who led the recruiting committee, comprised of four board members, two staff, an artist and two outside members. “We found the right person right here at the NAC to provide the vision and leadership necessary to guide the organization into its next half-century. Few people know the NAC as well as Christopher Deacon.”

Deacon has been at the centre of the centre’s transformation in recent years. 

“Christopher Deacon is a champion of the performing arts in Canada,” said Peter Herrndorf in a media release. “He’s got a proven record as a risk-taker and as an adventurous arts administrator leading highly ambitious projects.”

Deacon assumes the helm of an institution that has been rejuvenated physically with a glittering $110 million addition and another $114 million  investment in the performing arts spaces with new seating, lighting and sound systems.

It has also been renewed institutionally with an emphasis on openness to the public in its new new addition with spaces available to community groups.

And there is much to look forward to with the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of the NAC’s opening in 2019, a resumption of summer programming and the launch of a new Indigenous Theatre department.

He also will be filling the large shoes of Peter Herrndorf who ran the NAC for the past 19 years until stepping down on June 2.

The challenges for the incoming CEO, for the first few years, will be to maintain the momentum of the NAC beyond 2019. Will he stand pat and stay the course or is there a new direction that he will develop such as initiatives in digital creation.

Deacon said in French that he was flabbergasted by the appointment. And he then processed to talk about his personal history and thanked his parents who met in London during the Second World War. They survived the Blitz and moved to Canada where Deacon was born.

He praised his predecessor.

“Peter has given me so much. He phoned me from a Greek Island this morning to wish me luck and to him I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

He says he intends to build on the vision and values that “brought us to where we are today. We will push further to fulfill our national role.”

He closed his remarks with a call to his colleagues inside the centre to “inspire, provoke and deeply move audiences.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.