First season of NAC’s Indigenous Theatre “diminished” because of lack of federal funding, artistic director says

Kevin Loring.

The NAC’s new Indigenous Theatre department will have to make cuts to its inaugural season because it didn’t receive funding from Heritage Canada in the recent federal budget, Indigenous Theatre’s artistic director Kevin Loring says in a Facebook post.

“I have now been put in the disturbing position of overseeing a department whose creation and existence is a financial burden to an already stressed institution – the NAC has not received an increase to its annual base funding in 15 years. To produce our inaugural season we have had to rely heavily on the other departments. This was necessary for our first year as we build capacity within the department. Going forward we will be even less capable of producing or presenting a season, even in partnership with the other departments without significant sacrifices to the seasons of our colleagues at the NAC. Perpetuating the narrative of Indigenous people being a burden, and looking for a hand out to support our existence.”

The season will go ahead thanks to fundraising by the NAC Foundation, writes Loring, “albeit in a greatly diminished capacity.”

Loring’s emotional post says the NAC received news that there was no funding for Indigenous Theatre on March 27, World Theatre Day.

Loring says that without more ongoing financial support, his department won’t have the resources for outreach, professional development and engagement with Indigenous artists and communities that would have supported the work and elevated the Indigenous performing arts sector across the country. The scope of any future seasons will also be diminished, he adds.

“Our artistic directors can go ahead and speak their mind, which (Loring) did,” said Annabelle Cloutier, the NAC’s director of communications, in an interview. “I wouldn’t say we were surprised. He had signalled his intention to share his thoughts on this.”

Cloutier said that the NAC had hoped Heritage Canada would provide funding over and above its standard allocation to the NAC to help kickstart the new Indigenous Theatre department. The NAC had asked for $3.5 million in additional funding to cover the cost of running the department for one year. “We’re very disappointed that it hasn’t been one of the initiatives funded through this budget, but we’re continuing to work with government to look at long-term solutions we can find to support the department.”

She says for the short term, the NAC is looking at internal resources, including funding from private donors, as a way to support the Indigenous Theatre department.

Asked if there would be cuts to the upcoming season because of financial constraints, she says, “I would say this is not on the table.”

Martine Courage, a spokesperson for Heritage Canada, says, “the Government has made historic investments in the art industry, our creators and artists. This year’s budget supports the music industry and festivals across the country. The Government of Canada has never invested so much in the reconciliation process. In this specific case, we recently invested $225 million to support the renewal of the National Arts Centre, which highlights Canada’s performing arts community. These investments demonstrate our commitment to our artists and creators – including in support to Indigenous art.”

The new NAC Indigenous Theatre department was created in 2016 to develop and showcase work by Indigenous artists across Canada. Loring, a Nlaka’pamux playwright and actor from Lytton First Nation in B.C., was named artistic director in 2017.

His 2009 play Where the Blood Mixes, about the intergenerational effects of residential schools, won a Governor General’s award. Loring was also the NAC’s playwright in residence and has acted several times on NAC stages.

In his Facebook post, he says, “In the year and a half that I have been in the position of Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre, I have had the great honour of witnessing the depth, talent, ingenuity, bravery, skill and excellence of the Indigenous performing artists of this land. I have attended national and international performing arts events, conferences and festivals where I was celebrated, (to my discomfort), as the incarnation of Canadian progressiveness, the Artistic Director of the world’s first ever national level Indigenous Theatre.

“It has been my hope to present and produce Indigenous dance and theatre productions, not just at the NAC, but to partner with companies across Canada. To bring Indigenous stories across the country, from coast to coast to coast. I hope to tour Indigenous artists, not just to our urban centres, but to under served communities as well. And to be an international hub of Indigenous artists and voices from around the world. In light of this funding denial, the scope of these aspirations must now be reconsidered.

I want to assure the amazing artists we’ve already engaged that, despite this disappointment, our inaugural season will go ahead as planned.”

Loring says that while he was tempted to resign in protest over the lack of funding, “I am resolved, and will continue to honour the commitment that I made to the Indigenous storytellers of this land. Despite this set back, we will continue to celebrate Indigenous artists on our national stage.”

Announcement of the first season of NAC Indigenous Theatre is scheduled for April 30.

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.