National Arts Centre, Ottawa

Coordinates: 45°25′23″N 75°41′38″W / 45.423°N 75.694°W / 45.423; -75.694

The National Arts Centre (NAC) is a centre for the performing arts located in Ottawa, Ontario, between Elgin Street and the Rideau Canal. The National Arts Centre was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006.


Ottawa had not had a major performing arts venue since 1928 when the Russell Theatre had been expropriated and demolished to make way for Confederation Square. Performers and orchestras visiting the capital were required to use the stage of the Capitol Cinema, which had been designed for vaudeville and films. In 1963, an organization named the National Capital Arts Alliance was founded by G. Hamilton Southam and Levi Pettler. They successfully convinced the city and government to build the new centre.

The NAC was one of a number of projects launched by the government of Lester B. Pearson to commemorate Canada's 1967 centenary. It opened on 2 June 1969 having cost $46 million (CAN) to build. The site had at one time been home to Ottawa City Hall, and the city donated the land to the federal government. Conductor Jean-Marie Beaudet served as the NAC's first music director (1969-1971).

  • Statue of Brigadier Andrew Gault in front of National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario Canada

  • Interior view of National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario showing suspended glass sculpture Crystal DNA

The building, designed by Fred Lebensold, is a large brown structure based on the shape of the hexagon. The roof of the building is attached to the Mackenzie King Bridge and contains gardens that are open to the public. Much of the building is below ground on Elgin Street, with the lower level looking out on the Rideau Canal. Its outer walls are made of a pebbled concrete that from a distance appears a flat brown colour, but on closer examination is made of thousands of small pebbles buried in concrete. Inside the building the hexagon theme is much in evidence. As well as the dramatic arts the centre is also a showcase for several major pieces of visual art that are displayed in the lobbies and stairwells.

In 2000, the NAC was named by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada as one of the top 500 buildings produced in Canada during the last millennium.

Artistic aims and performances presented

One of the largest performing arts facilities in Canada (at 1.158 million square feet), the NAC works with thousands of artists, both emerging and established, from across Canada and around the world, and collaborates with dozens of other arts organizations across the country. The NAC operates in the performing arts fields of classical music, English theatre, French theatre, dance, variety, and community programming. The NAC supports programs for young and emerging artists and programs for young audiences, and producing resources and study materials for teachers. The NAC is the only multidisciplinary, bilingual, performing arts centre in North America, and one of the largest in the world. The NAC is a coproducer of the Canada Dance Festival and is the venue for the Ottawa International Animated Film Festival.

The National Arts Centre is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, considered one of the world's leading classical-size orchestras. Pinchas Zukerman, a conductor, violinist, violist, and teacher, has been the orchestra's Music Director since 1999. The Artistic Director of English Theatre is Peter Hinton; the Artistic Director of French Theatre is Wadji Mouawad; Cathy Levy is the Artistic Producer Dance; Heather Moore is Producer and Executive Director of the Scene Festivals; Simone Deneau is Producer, Variety and Community Programming; and Michael Blackie is the Executive Chef.

The National Arts Centre is a co-founder of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which it operates in partnership with the Canadian Theatre Festival Society. The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is an annual event first held in Ottawa in 2003, where it is held every second year, being held in other Canadian cities in the alternating years. The festival offers not only productions and performances for the theatre-going public, but offers workshops and seminars aimed at theatre students and theatre professionals.

Performance facilities

The NAC has four stages:

  • Southam Hall, with 2323 seats, is the largest stage and is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, Opera Lyra Ottawa, as well as ballet and other major visiting shows and productions.
  • The Theatre, with 897 seats, is mostly used for theatre and dance events. It has been home to the English-language and French-language theatre companies.
  • Studio, with 300 seats, is also a theatre venue.
  • The Fourth Stage, with 150 seats, opened in 2001 and is home to a wide variety of community programming.


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Building Activity

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