City gems found in local arts trove
By Jessica Ruano
Ottawa residents benefit from having the National Arts Centre, the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, and a plethora of national museums and cultural institutions. There is also a thriving local arts scene including the Ottawa School of Art, local theatre groups, numerous galleries, arts festivals, and dance troupes. This has resulted in a multi-layered arts scene that continues to attract both artists and audiences alike. Consider just some of these local arts events that have occurred in recent times.
The new Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre (NAC) English Theatre is known for his work on a national scale but nowadays Peter Hinton is concentrating on making Ottawa an exciting place for theatre. Local projects like The Ark involve theatre students from the University of Ottawa by encouraging them to lay the groundwork for future seasons and explore drama in contemporary social context. Hinton invites out-of-town actors to perform locally, and Ottawa actors had the opportunity to tour this season’s production of Macbeth at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. The NAC is exchanging artistic ideas on a national level, while still providing opportunities for local actors.
Inspired by our local theatre scene chock full of talent, a handful of professional artists programmed Ottawa’s first annual Rideau Awards show in April 2008.These peer-assessed awards recognized knock-out performances and stellar productions from Ottawa companies such as Third Wall Theatre Company, New Theatre of Ottawa, Gruppo Rubato, and 7:30 Productions.
With a shortage of performance venues in Ottawa, several new buildings have been created to provide outlets for local artists. The appearance of a brand new theatre building, several art galleries, and a better focus on general aesthetics has made the neighbourhood of Hintonburg one of the hottest new spots for Ottawa culture. The major contribution to this transformation was the creation of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, home of the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Third Wall. Also providing “found” performance spaces are Cube Gallery and the Elmdale Tavern, demonstrating that shows can be enjoyed in the most surprising of locations.
St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities has become a most astonishingly beautiful venue for local arts events. The newly deconsecrated Roman Catholic Church on St. Patrick Street is the ideal spot for hosting Ottawa Writers Festival readings, unique art installations and other arts celebrations. In terms of festivals, the annual Magnetic North Theatre Festival and Québec Scene made quite an impression last spring by providing Ottawa arts fans with an infusion of national culture in the capital. The Ottawa Fringe Festival mixes local, national, and international theatre performances in its 10-day celebration of alternative arts in June. The Jazz and Blues festivals still trumpet celebrity acts, but also focus on amazing local bands like Soul Jazz Orchestra. A notable addition to the festival scene is Ottawa’s Photography Festival, which began in November of 2007 and showcased local photographers’ artwork in various downtown studios.
There also exists something artists like to call “poetry clubbing.” From the time that Ottawa hosted the very first Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, the slam poetry scene has been booming with new artists constantly adding themselves to the mix. Slam, by the way, is poetry in competition form: poets perform 3-minute poems that are scored by a handful of randomly selected judges from the audience. It is fast-paced, exciting, and encourages a variety of styles. Since the Capital Poetry Collective appeared on the scene a few years ago, a number of sister companies, such as the Oneness Collective in downtown Ottawa and the Spoken Word Plot in the Ottawa valley, have been spreading the word.
Ottawa’s arts scene is extensive. The events that have occurred in the past couple of years have played a major part in the improvement of certain communities, contributed to the education and involvement of artistic youth, and provided opportunities for artists to live and work in Ottawa. Our local arts community is alive and thriving, and there is still much more to come.
Jessica Ruano is a freelance theatre professional and the creator/writer of the Ottawa Arts Newsletter.