National Arts Centre: Herrndorf dinner raises $1M for new Indigenous Theatre

Dinner in honour of Peter Herrndorf raises $1M for Indigenous Theatre department at NAC. Photo: Peter Robb

The National Arts Centre paid tribute to outgoing CEO Peter Herrndorf Thursday night with a dinner and entertainment in what was considered the first official event in the recently renovated Canada Room that overlooks, on one side, the Rideau Canal and on the other side the renewed main lobby of the NAC.

But for Herrndorf, the biggest gift of the night would surely have been the raising of $1 million in proceeds from the dinner that will go to one of his key initiatives, the NAC’s Indigenous Theatre Department, which will stage its first ever season in 2019.

Herrndorf will step down from the NAC on June 2 after more than 18 years at the centre.

An audience of about 400 paid tribute to Herrndorf Thursday. Canadian actor Colm Feore, guided a series of speeches by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, Indigenous Theatre Artistic Director Kevin Loring, NAC Board Chair Adrian Burns, the first Chair of the NAC Foundation, Guy Pratte and Herrndorf himself. Entertainment was provided by jazz singer Molly Johnson, singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk and Ottawa’s superstar of the piano Angela Hewitt.

Loring, in his speech, told the audience that he looks “forward to elevating the voices of  Indigenous artists from across the land, and giving them the resources they need to share their stories with Canadians.”

Herrndorf in his speech described his initial concerns about joining the centre 18 years ago when the NAC was in turmoil and in a crisis of confidence. He leaves it much better than he found it with a recently completed $110 million building renovation and with another $100 million renewal of the inner workings of the institution well under way — not to mention the establishment of a $25 million creation fund that will take new works to the world stage to go along with the Indigenous theatre initiative.

“Leading the National Arts Centre has been the greatest honour and privilege of my life,” he said.

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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.