Canada has a new show-business angel, and it's called the National Arts Centre. Starting in 2017, the NAC will invest $3-million per year in ambitious performing-arts works from anywhere in Canada, whether or not those shows appear on NAC stages.
"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."
A specific touring plan isn't necessary, Moore said, but priority will be given to projects that aim to close their initial production run by loading their sets into a shipping container, not a dumpster. She expects to invest the annual $3-million disbursement in 15 to 20 projects a year.
The NAC Foundation has spent the past eight years raising capital for the fund, which now stands at more than $23-million. NAC president and CEO Peter Herrndorf said the fund is not meant to be a self-sustaining endowment.
"We'll invest $3-million a year for six or seven years, and if at the end of that period it is seen to have had an impact, we can fundraise from there [to continue at the same level]," Herrndorf said. "If it's not a success, we'll say, 'This was an interesting way to approach it, maybe we'll look for a different way.' "
The main idea, 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.
Moore will make all the funding decisions, she said, with help from a staff of two or three and a network of artistic leaders at the NAC and across the country, who may recommend projects but won't have the power to invest in them. Operating expenses will come out of the fund itself, not the NAC's budget, Herrndorf said.
About 30 per cent of the fund's investments will go to projects at the NAC, though Herrndorf said that the arts centre's in-house producers will have to go through the same process as anyone else. "People here understand this as a wonderful incentive to do more new work," he said.
Herrndorf also said that the application process will be relatively simple, with a culminating stage in which artists and their companies will pitch their proposals in person. "I think the face-to-face part will be the most important," he said.
The Drowsy Chaperone could stand as one example of the kind of work the NAC has in mind, Herrndorf said. The musical began as a skit for a Toronto stag party, was bankrolled for a full stage production by impresario David Mirvish and eventually won five Tony Awards for its New York Broadway run in 2006.
Moore singled out Betroffenheit, an acclaimed 2015 dance-theatre work by Vancouver's Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, which had multiple production and development partners, and which will continue touring next year in the United States and Europe. Moore said that broad support gave Pite and Young the time to make the show all that it could be, adding that the National Creation Fund is meant to do the same for others.
"We're funding risk," Moore said. "We're giving people a chance not just to go with their first idea, but to try a number of different things before they hit the stage. We want to help create a canon of great Canadian work."