The year was 1999.
The National Arts Centre at the time was nothing like the national treasure it is today. The troubled organization had lost its sense of purpose. Program budgets had decreased, NAC Orchestra tours cut back, original productions scaled down.
And then a man with a reputation for transforming organizations like the CBC and TVO was named President and CEO. Peter Herrndorf took the reins of the floundering NAC and everything began to change.
“Peter’s vision has always been driven by his genuine passion for culture and his fierce commitment to the artists he brought together,” says Denis Marleau, former Artistic Director, French Theatre. “Under his leadership, the NAC experienced one of the most magical and creative periods in its history.”
With Peter at its helm, the NAC re-embraced its national role, made youth and education a key pillar of the organization, put excitement back on its stages by committing to artistic excellence. He re-energized the staff, hired superb new leaders to senior management, and recruited an exceptional artistic team, giving them the freedom to produce great work on the NAC’s stage and on stages across the country.
“Peter Herrndorf is the great custodian of Canadian dreams,” says former Artistic Director of English theatre Peter Hinton. “He follows the aspirations of many artists, and puts together necessary people who can help each other achieve impossible things.”
The impact of Peter’s tenure at the NAC has been extraordinary. Under his leadership, the NAC Orchestra resumed national tours, with concerts and education events in communities throughout the country.
“Peter was the NAC’s CEO, which to me meant its ‘chief enabling officer’ – someone who created the conditions for great artistic possibility and expansion,” says Pinchas. “He cajoled, convinced and championed the need to put our musicians on Canadian and world stages through regular touring.”
There have been many proud moments for the NAC and the entire nation thanks to Peter’s vision and commitment. From the creation of the national biennial Scene festivals, which have showcased thousands of established and emerging Canadian artists from every region of the country; to the engagement of young audiences through innovative programs like Music Alive; to the establishment of the Creation Campaign to help Canadian artists and arts organizations develop ambitious new work, the NAC has truly become the centre of artistic excellence Peter envisioned when he became President and CEO almost two decades ago.
“In just 18 years, Peter has forged a potent, vibrant identity for the NAC as a dynamic and truly national centre of creativity that has galvanized Canada’s cultural scene,” says former Board Trustee, Victoria Tennant.
One of Peter’s most visionary ideas was the creation of the NAC Foundation. Over the past 18 years, the Foundation has raised more than $140 million to support the national and international aspirations of Canadian artists, and has helped the NAC accomplish a great number of its national initiatives.
Undoubtedly, one of Peter’s biggest accomplishments was the physical transformation of the NAC through the $225.4 million Architectural and Production Renewal Project. The project was designed to transform the NAC’s brutalist architecture into a warm and inviting space, with beautiful views of the nation’s capital. Peter himself describes the new NAC as “the living room of the City.”
In recent months, Peter also announced that the NAC will open a new Department of Indigenous Theatre to mark the 50th Anniversary in 2019, led by Indigenous actor and playwright Kevin Loring. Peter says he’s most proud of this achievement.
To that end, in February, 400 artists, politicians and philanthropists gathered in the NAC’s new Canada Room for a fundraising dinner in Peter’s honour. The fundraiser met its ambitious goal, raising $1 million in support of Indigenous Theatre. All of us at the NAC are deeply grateful to everyone who contributed and played a role in making Peter’s most recent vision a reality.
Our generous supporters will get another chance to personally bid Peter farewell before the curtain closes on his tenure on June 2. The NAC Orchestra will dedicate their performance: Emanuel Ax’s “Emperor Concerto” to Peter on May 23.
“With our generous supporters by my side, leading the NAC for the last 18 years continues to be the greatest joy of my life,” Peter says. “The NAC is a national treasure, and my role was to create the conditions to allow artists to dream, and to do their best work. I’m deeply grateful to our donors who allowed me to bring the NAC’s vision to life. It has been a privilege to serve Canadian artists, and to help them define who we are as a people.”
The privilege has been ours, Peter. Bravo and thank you for your extraordinary work and your vision that will continue to guide the NAC for many years to come.