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The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

NAC partners with Black Theatre Workshop to share English programming resources

The National Arts Centre is sharing the spotlight with Canada's longest-running Black theatre company as part of the Ottawa institution's new commitment to evenly split its English programming resources with Black arts organizations.

NAC English Theatre announced Wednesday that it's partnering with Montreal's Black Theatre Workshop to launch a collaborative curation model aimed at bringing Black perspectives to the national stage.

As the inaugural co-curating company in residence, the Black Theatre Workshop will have access to half of NAC English Theatre’s resources to program its 2021-2022 slate, including funds, staffing and venues.

The 50-year-old organization will also have a say in choosing another Black-run theatre company as its successor for the following season.

Black Theatre Workshop artistic director Quincy Armorer sees the NAC collaboration as a chance to elevate Black artists across Canada.

"There are so many talented Black artists that haven't even begun to tap into their true potential," Armorer said in an interview this week.

"If nothing else, (this creates) opportunities for Black artists to have more employment, more exposure, more experience, which is then going to have a domino effect of hopefully making them be employed more thereafter."

NAC English Theatre artistic director Jillian Keiley said the co-curation model came out of consultations with members of the theatre community who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour in response to calls for cultural institutions to take action against systemic racism.

The plan is to annually appoint a Black-run theatre company to select and develop shows that NAC English Theatre will produce, Keiley said.

She said this relationship will be supported by an interlocutor who will help the co-curating company in residence deal with any issues that may arise as a result of the "culture clash" of working within a large, predominantly white organization.

A spokesperson for the NAC said the program will be in place "for the foreseeable future."

While Armorer anticipates there may be some "bumps in the road" in navigating the new role, he said he hopes the Black Theatre Workshop will be able to lay the foundation for other Black theatres to bring their vision to one of Canada's largest performing arts centres.

Armorer said the NAC's commitment to giving Black theatremakers a national platform marks a substantive step toward addressing some of the structural inequities that have deprived racialized artists of the resources to tell their stories.

"It's going to take a lot of work to to rectify this imbalance, but we all need to be working for it," Armorer said. "That's what NAC English Theatre is doing. They're saying, here are our resources, please come take half and share this with us."

"It's a very generous thing to do, to say this is important to us that your stories are a part of the national conversation."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version of this story misstated the date that the partnership between the National Arts Centre and Black Theatre Workshop was announced. The announcement was made on Wednesday.

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