History of the Scenes

As part of its mission to be a truly “national” arts centre, the NAC produces a series of biennial festivals designed to showcase the artistic talents and culture of the many different regions of Canada.

The instant and resounding success of the first of these festivals, Atlantic Scene in 2003, demonstrated the importance of this innovative multidisciplinary festival format. Performers such as Natalie MacMaster, comedian Rick Mercer, Buck 65 and Marie-Jo Thério, opera singer Measha Breuggergosman and visual artist Christopher Pratt were just some of the more than 500 artists presented in the Atlantic Scene’s 85 events.

Two years later it was Alberta’s turn. From April 28 to May 10, 2005, Alberta Scene featured more than 600 artists in 95 events, making it the largest celebration of Alberta culture ever held inside or outside the province. Notable performers included the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Alberta Ballet, pianist Katherine Chi, blues guitarist Amos Garrett, country singer Terri Clark, jazz musician P.J. Perry and The Corb Lund Band

In 2007, Quebec Scene featured more than 700 artists from every discipline, including an exciting mix of new works, a number of which were co-produced by the festival: A little tenderness for crying out loud! by choreographer Dave St-Pierre, Norman, produced by 4D art, Les Entrailles by Claude Gauvreau, produced by Théâtre La Catapulte, the nomadic theatre experience of Welcome to… (a city where you are a tourist) by Olivier Choinière, and the commission of Making Real, a major visual and media arts exhibition that explored the artist’s relationship to reality.

BC Scene, which brought together 600 artists from British Columbia, took over the National Capital Region from April 21 to May 3, 2009. Highlights included Diana Krall, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s first Ottawa appearance since 1976, George Ryga’s landmark play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, Theatre Replacement’s BIOBOXES, the world premiere of Crystal Pite’s new work Dark Matters, and an indie rock showcase headlined by Vancouver’s Black Mountain. The festival’s visual and media arts programming was particularly strong as almost 70 artists took part in 16 exhibitions at galleries throughout Ottawa and Gatineau.

Prairie Scene took over the nation’s capital from April 26 to May 8, 2011.  More than 500 artists from Manitoba and Saskatchewan took part in the festival, including music legends Bachman & Turner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Colin James.  Other highlights included acclaimed theatre productions Gordon Winter and La Troupe du Jour’s Rearview, stunning contemporary dance by Robin Poitras and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the world premiere of Guy Maddin’s Tales from the Gimli Hospital: Reframed.

The most recent festival was Northern Scene, which ran from April 25 to May 4, 2013.  Over ten days, 355 established and emerging artists from Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as Nunavik and Nunatsiavut drew record audiences for performances and exhibitions.  Northern Scene featured performances by Tanya Tagaq, Leela Gilday, and Susan Aglukarq, the world premiere of a stunning film installation by Yukon’s Charles Stankievech, the debut of a new version of Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories with Inuit artists from Nunavut, Nunavik and Greenland, and 18 visual and media arts exhibitions featuring work by more than 150 artists. 

To make these festivals a reality, the National Arts Centre collaborates with more than 70 public, corporate, artistic and individual partners. Extensive media coverage, both print and electronic, ensures that news of the Scenes and their artists crosses the country. To date, the Scenes have generated nearly 1,000 print media articles and more than 100 hours of radio and television coverage, providing important visibility for artists from coast to coast to coast.

A key element of each Scene is the Presenters’ Program, which gives festival artists the opportunity to develop their careers through performances and meetings for  leading presenters from across Canada and around the world.  Since its inception, the Presenters’ Program has brought 444 presenters from 28 countries to Ottawa to see performances, exhibitions, and meet with artists.  This exposure directly results in tours and bookings at major festivals and concert venues for many Scene artists and organizations.

Building on the momentum of these six successful festivals, the National Arts Centre is turning to Ontario. Beginning April 28, 2015, more than 600 artists will take over the Ottawa / Gatineau arts and culture scene for a 13-day festival.  Ontario Scene will celebrate the province’s dynamic energy, and will provide a daring, eclectic reflection of contemporary Ontario.