Jeff Melanson wants to convince every Canadian they're an artist.
"The point of art is to love it. We wanted to enable and encourage what I'd call participaction for the arts, a more active, creative engagement with Canadian society."
Although he started at the National Ballet School in 2006, Mr. Melanson's background was not in dance. He trained as an opera singer, and was the dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music until this most recent appointment.
Mr. Melanson grew up in Winnipeg and came to formal singing through high-school musicals. He said the theatrics of sports events, like Toronto Raptors basketball games, still appeal to his sense of the artistic.
"There are many things I love about a grand opera context, but ultimately we are in a period of transformation and adaptation and we need to find a bridge between the classics and more contemporary approaches."
A new role for the National Ballet school, away from its traditional connections and moving to a more populist approach, is a recent partnership with the television show So You Think You Can Dance?
"We partnered with them, the show shoots here at the school, and we created a website with them called wanttodance.ca, which went across the country and registered a thousand dance schools so that people watching the show could study dance themselves. " Mr. Melanson said this approach moves away from the old style of engagement with the arts, where organizations concentrated on building a donor base and building an audience. It goes beyond traditional arts education, which turned people into a certain type of highbrow arts consumer.
"What's exciting about what we are doing now, and we're not the only ones who are doing it, is focusing and awakening the creative potential within everyone. Rather than art being something that exists out there, art is something that is fundamental, connected to everyone."
He is married to Jennifer, an acclaimed pianist, with three kids, Caelan, 11, Maddie, 9, and Claire, 7, and lives in Cabbagetown in downtown Toronto. The family love being in the centre of the city, and have many debates around the dining room table with friends in the arts.
Both Mr. Melanson and his wife conduct a local community choir.
"They are a lot of beginners, mostly. Thirty people come over dutifully every Monday and sing through everything from Beatles to [Italian Renaissance composer]Palestrina."
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