Poster illustration by Colin White
When Heather Gibson took the reins as Executive Producer of NAC Presents & Variety Programming last year, it was clear that she was determined to spice things up and make the most of her role. Her resume is as extensive as it is impressive – she was the award-winning Executive Director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, she’s opened her own club, owned an artistic management company, not to mention serving as the Chair of the East Coast Music Association and being a board member for CAPACOA (The Canadian Arts Presenting Association), The Khyber Centre for the Arts, and The Western Roots Artistic Directors. Oh yeah, and she was the Founder and Artistic Producer of the In the Dead of Winter Music Festival. Try fitting that on one page.
The recent announcement of the NAC Presents’ Fall 2017 season is proof that she’s not only the right person for the job – she also recognizes the NAC’s importance in developing emerging artists across Canada and supporting the Ottawa/Gatineau region’s local arts scenes. The extensive lineup announcement includes a diverse group of Canadian artists from various backgrounds, highlighting her desire to broaden the scope of what NAC Presents can do. The Fall 2017 portion of the series contains more shows than ever before, and combines a number of emerging artists with mainstay household names. I caught up with Heather earlier this week to discuss the announcement, have a read below.
For a look at the NAC Presents Fall 2017 lineup, check out the calendar here.
Interview with Heather Gibson, Executive Producer at NAC Presents
2017 is a big year for the NAC. How have you personally approached the role of Executive Producer?
I think that to do my job properly, I need to program a wide variety of Canadian music. That includes taking things like genre, location, gender, and more into consideration. This particular program isn’t so much about the 2017 celebrations, in fact we looked at what the city was doing and tried to make sure we weren’t going to be duplicating too much. One conflict with the celebrations might be, for example, the show we have booked the same night as the Grey Cup celebrations. But there’s just so many events happening in Ottawa this year that we just have to navigate through, other than that it’s pretty much business as usual.
What are some of the most important goals or factors to consider when programming the NAC Presents series?
There’s a few factors to consider, the first of which is that it has to be Canadian. You might hear of a few events that involve non-Canadian artists, but that’s going to be in the “variety” portfolio. NAC Presents is strictly all Canadian music and the focus is on songwriting. It used to be that the focus was on singer-songwriters, but I feel that the focus should be on all kinds of songwriting and broaden the depth in genres.
From artists like Blakdenim, Shakura S’Aida, or Samantha Martin, there’s some excellent hip hop, blues, funk, and soul, through to the singer-songwriters like David Francey and Catherine MacClellan that people are more used to. There’s also an element of emerging talent in Canada that we’re focusing on, as well. There’s only eight or nine shows at Southam Hall and the rest are in the Studio. I tried to bring a wide variety of emerging talent from across the country.
The series also includes emerging artists. In your mind, why is it important to include emerging artists in the programming?
In many ways, I think it’s more important for NAC Presents to support emerging artists more than any other. As a national institution we are mandated to develop artists from across the country, and we can’t just do that with Jann Arden and Diana Krall. We also can’t wait for the music environment to develop these artists, because once they hit that level in their career then we’re not contributing to the music industry, we’re only taking from it.
The smaller venues around this country are doing most of the heavy lifting and we need to be a part of that, and find a balance between playing that role and also encouraging those small venues in and around Ottawa as opposed competing with them. I’m hopeful that we’re doing that, and that it leads to more opportunities for more artists to develop beyond the emerging level. It’s so important that we program emerging artists, it’s inherent in my job. If we don’t then we’re going to find that we will have fewer Canadian headliners, and we’re already struggling to get people out to the small and mid-sized venues in the region. If we can play a greater role nationally then I think we’ve done a part of the job.
What are some new challenges you face with NAC Presents? How do you approach and overcome them?
I don’t think that there have been a lot of challenges, per se. If anything it’s starting this job in year six and making some changes, people have expectations of the series and I hope we can both meet and broaden those expectations. For those who are used to seeing singer-songwriters, we still want them to feel like there’s something for them. There are more shows from September to December this year than there were all of last year, so hopefully people still feel like there’s lots of room for them at the NAC. There are some opportunities to explore more partnerships in the region as this program grows, too.
One of the main challenges for the NAC as a whole is simply having space. Between the orchestra, two theatre departments, Scene, and Dance, there are lots of space needs. I’ve had to turn down a show because there is an NAC Dance production happening in the Hall, but we all have to get along in the space we have. There’s so much to choose from out there. We’re pushing the boundaries for people who are local and considered to be quite emerging. We hope that through Fridays at the Fourth, people will hear new music that they have never heard anywhere before. A lot of the challenge is just weathering through the change, in a way.
Can you talk about the new Fridays at the Fourth initiative?
Every Friday, without exception, is Fridays at the Fourth. There are a couple of aspects of it, one of which is that it will always be $15 or $10 for students – the price will always stay the same. The other piece is that it will be genre-wide. Sometimes there will be folk, other times there will be pop. We’re kicking things off pretty folky folk with Tomato/Tomato and Old Man Grant, so there’s a lot of local involvement. There will be some francophone artists as well, for instance we have Caracol playing one of the Fridays.
Some of the emerging artists we’ve programmed have already taken off since we got them on board, too. Ahi was very emerging when I booked him, and has since gotten over 800,000 YouTube or Spotify hits. Because it’s at the beginning of their careers, they can take off very quickly. It will be nice for people to see them in a small venue at the new Fourth Stage. The idea is to really try and play a role in local development, and with some of the marketing that the NAC undertakes we could potentially give them a different audience than they are used to playing in front of. By the time December rolls around, the emerging artists could be a name that everyone knows. A lot of the programming is at the discovery stage, getting people to try something new. We’ll see how it goes for the first three months.
What are some of the highlights of the announcement for you personally?
Coming from the east, I have a few preferences that I’m pleased about. I’m happy that Erin Costelo is finally playing at the NAC, that’s long overdue. I’m also very happy about Catherine MacLellan’s show, which is a show with her dad which includes a lot of multimedia and old footage of Gene MacClellan and some of his songs. Because I’m from the east I love Gadelle, which is essentially an Acadian Kitchen Party. I’m also excited about people like Shakura S’Aida and Samantha Martin, I love the blues.
As far as bigger Hall shows go, William Prince has also taken off the last few months, so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I mean, I’m kind of excited about all of it so we could go through it all! I think it’s a good first shake at it. It’s great that we can do some CD releases with some of those more mainstream artists like Diana Krall and Jesse Cook, it’s nice to be their choice of place to perform.
NAC Presents: Tickets & Information
• In person at the Welcome Centre/Satellite Box Office;
• At all Ticketmaster outlets;
• By telephone from Ticketmaster, 1-888-991-2787 (ARTS); and
• Online through the Ticketmaster link on the NAC’s website (www.nac-cna.ca).
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