NAC’s Creation Fund Year 1: $2.9M invested in 19 performing arts projects

A scene from O'wet written by Musqueam artist Quelemia Sparrow. It examines the impact of colonialism across generations.

Nineteen performing arts projects have been funded to the tune of more than $2.9 million by the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund in its first year of operation.

The fund was established by the NAC as a way to help promising performing arts projects get to a bigger stage be that a national or international one. In a media release, the NAC says the fund invests up to $3 million a year in 15 to 20 Canadian works in theatre, dance, music and inter-disciplinary arts to enhance research and development, workshopping and residencies of what it calls “significant” new works. It also invests in works that need to go “back into the lab” before they can be remounted and showcased successfully.

“We had 127 submissions in the first year. We had some very good projects that we had to say no to. In the beginning there were also some that weren’t meeting the fund’s criteria,” said Heather Moore, the artistic producer of the fund for the NAC.

“The Number One thing we are looking for is a strong artistic vision with a clear and compelling idea of what they want to do. We are also looking for projects that have strong teams around them.

“But what it comes down to is them being able to tell us the difference the investment will make … if they have the time to try things and test those ideas.”

Another element of many projects involves developing mentorship opportunities with talented artists from other countries.

On the list of funded projects is a mix of more “experimental” works and more conventional pieces.

“It was our intention to be looking across the disciplines, but we didn’t have to force (a mix).”

The fund does go out looking for projects, Moore said, they did contact a variety of communities to avoid consulting the usual suspects. “There was a conscious effort to reach out. I think we have a lot more of that to do. I think we need more music projects. We need to figure out what orchestras would do if they had this opportunity.”

The choices made, she said, were much more about the projects themselves that where people were from.

One thing that is emerging is the number of multi-disciplinary projects coming to the fore.

“At least six or eight of the projects, I wouldn’t know if it’s theatre or dance or music. This is definitely the way artists are creating today. We are seeing it more on our stages at the NAC.”

She said the fund staff have done a lot of consultation with artists to discover what they need to become the next Come From Away and take Broadway by storm. “This is another thing we are looking for. If something is just going to happen once, that is less interesting to us. If it is going to have an on-going life, and we get more work in the Canadian canon” then the fund will be more interested. “We ask ourselves, Will it work? Can it tour?” she added.

Many of the additional elements the fund will help supply would likely not be available to the projects without the support provided by the fund.

Going forward, there are still lessons to be learned from the artists to find out how well the fund is working and what more they could be doing, she said. Already applications for funding in Year Two of the fund are rolling in to her office, Moore said. “We want to make sure that the bar is high” for applicants. She is keeping an eye on interesting projects that didn’t make the grade the first time around. It’s very much a chicken and egg conundrum, but the bottom line is “we are not early stage investors.”

A network of potential funders is also emerging with places such as the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Luminato Festival in Toronto involved in this kind of development work, Moore said.

Patrons in Ottawa will get an idea of what this extra funding can accomplish when The Hockey Sweater: A Musical by the Segal Centre for Performing Arts (Montreal), based on the classic story by Roch Carrier, opens on Dec. 5 at the NAC.

Other examples of the fund in action include the Jan. 9, 2019 premiere of the Electric Company Theatre’s The Full Light of Day, written by Daniel Brooks and directed by Kim Collier, at the Vancouver Playhouse. The fund made it possible to do a full two-week workshop and added rehearsal time. It also made possible a touring set and enabled the production of film and virtual reality material. This work will be in Toronto at the Bluma Appel Theatre June 7-13, presented by the Luminato Festival and Canadian Stage. 

And in 2019, NAC Dance will feature performances by Kidd Pivot (Revisor) and the Peggy Baker Dance Projects (who we are in the dark), both of which have been the recipients of Creation Fund cash.

The fund, which opened officially on Nov. 1, 2017, was built by donations from interested individuals from across Canada who collectively contributed more than $25 million.

The following five projects are the latest to receive an investment by the fund:

A scene from FRONTERA. Photo: Morillo Photography

Frontera (Dana Gingras, Animals of Distinction, Montreal): This is a multimedia dance and music “event.” Choreographer Dana Gingras and her company Animals of Distinction will use light and projection, live music, nine dancers and a Parkour artist to “investigate” the issues around borders.

O’wet (Quelemia Sparrow, Savage Production Society, Vancouver)
Musqueam artist Quelemia Sparrow wrote and will perform O’wet which examines the impact of colonialism across generations. Quelemia is working with Indigenous filmmaker Amanda Strong to create a multi-dimensional creation story of Vancouver to life.

A scene from Prison Dance. Photo: Juan Camilo Palacio

Prison Dancer (Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus, Citadel Theatre, Edmonton)

In 2007, a video of 1,500 inmates in a Philippines prison dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller became one of the first viral events on YouTube.  The Dancing Inmates of Cebu have inspired a musical by Filipino-Canadian creators Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus. They are now revisiting Prison Dancer to expand its scope.

SOIFS Matériaux (Denis Marleau and Stéphane Jasmin, UBU compagnie de création, Montréal)

SOIFS Matériaux is adapted from Soifs, the first book of a cycle by writer Marie-Claire Blais, by directors Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin. The production will feature more than 20 actors, and it will feature music and images to make “a vast symphony of modern times.” 

Svāhā (Nova Bhattacharya, Nova Dance, Toronto)

At the heart of Svāhā is choreography by Nova Bhattacharya for 15 Indian classical dancers working with 75 students from Indian dance training programs.


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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.