Ottawa’s National Arts Center has spent the past eight years raising $23 million so it could give the money away. Why? The NAC is a performing arts center, a presenter and home to several of the Canadian capital’s biggest arts groups. But it hasn’t been a traditional funder. At a time when arts groups are scrambling to support their own operations, why raise money to fund other artists’ work, particularly when it might never see your own stages?
It’s a brilliant move, actually. There are many ways to have impact in your field. Certainly producing or presenting great work is one of them. But there’s also tremendous power in being a convener of ideas and people, a connector of resources or an investor in work that you like. Engaging in artistic conversations with other artists and institutions outside your own walls broadens and challenges your own work.
How do you build constituency for your aesthetic? The aesthetic you produce on your own stages might not travel much beyond your building, even if it gets critical acclaim. But funding artists and work beyond your own fingertips extends your influence and promotes your ideas. It’s a bold bid for artistic leadership that extends NAC’s reach well beyond Ottawa.
“We’re looking for bold, compelling works that have a strong artistic team, a strong producing partner and ambitions to be national or international,” said Heather Moore, the veteran NAC artistic producer who will run the NAC’s new National Creation Fund. “This is not about the germ of an idea that doesn’t yet have a potential life. We’re talking about filling in that mid-development stage of a project that’s brewing, and that already has somebody intent on putting it on the stage.”
The main idea,NAC president and CEO Peter Herrndorf said, is to put enough cash into the hands of artists to make an exponential difference in artistic outcomes. “We want to get as much of that money into artists’ hands as possible, as quickly as possible,” he said.
– Douglas McLennan