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Ottawa’s NAC & staying relevant

We’re about the same age, the  National Arts Centre (NAC) and I. It would seem that, like most of us, the NAC’s biggest fans are its parents — the generation that created and brought this centre to life.

But there’s no doubt about it, its biggest fans are getting older. The people who are their most loyal subscribers will soon be retiring from their seats in the audience. Fresh bottoms will be needed to fill these seats.

Bottoms like mine.

That’s why I’m so pleased to see how hard the NAC is working to keep itself relevant to my generation. It’s not easy to keep an arts centre of this size and breadth alive, especially during any kind of economic downturn, when people stop spending and start staying home.  

So here’s a clever little initiative that the NAC has started: blogger nights.

The centre now has an e-markting officer (Jennifer Covert), a Twitter handle (@CanadasNAC) and a blog. And sure, lots of organizations have these things, but the NAC is really doing them quite well.

Let’s use last night as an example:

At last night’s blogger night, nine bloggers (,,,,,,, gathered just outside the Le Cafe for a little cocktail hour with wine and a beautiful selection of appetizers.  This is not just about giving us free food and letting us chat amongst ourselves. It’s smart engagement.

Consider that the Le Cafe now has a new chef — Micheal Blackie, who many of us Ottawa locals will know from Brookstreet’s Perspectives restaurant in Kanata. My hubby (who was invited to join me) is a bit of a foodie, so he was quite taken-in with Blackie’s offerings. We wanted to hear more, so we asked Sarah — a woman who introduced herself to us and explained that she works to help market the orchestra — what she knew about him. She told us that one of the interesting things that Blackie has started is a Brunch. Huh. Who knew? And how great is that! A brunch along the canal would be a wonderful way to spend a morning. Hubby immediately suggested that we do this with my family on Sunday. (See – it works, doesn’t it? And now I’m blogging about it too – double points for the NAC.)

A number of other thoughtful details went into this blogger night too. Peter Herrndorf, NAC President and CEO, came to mingle with us bloggy folks. And in the lobby, a special table was set up with wifi and laptops so that we could tweet or blog on site. Beside this table was a poster welcoming the bloggers with a list of our names and urls. How special do we feel, now? Yes, smart engagement yet again.

Then we got to see the show Mysterioso: Music and Magic. I never in a million years would have bought tickets and gone out to see this show. For one, it really wasn’t my style of show (as I suggested here). And two, people my age often don’t go out much — we’re so used to being home and caring for our babies.

And that’s precisely the point: I did go out to the show. And even though I still wouldn’t call it my style of show, I had a fabulous time. The performers, acutely aware of magic shows’ slightly cheesy reputation, played it up tongue-cheek all night. I howled with laughter at the Les Anrold and Dazzle performance! Dazzle is the magician’s assistant, and she was so funny that she stole the entire night for me. Here’s a clip if you feel like having a little Friday fun break:

Hubby and I walked out of the NAC feeling like a million bucks last night. It gave us an opportunity to remember how much we enjoyed going out before the kids came along. And it proved to us that the organizing required to get ourselves a night out was totally worth it in the end and that now that our children were no longer babies, there’s no reason not to treat ourselves to “date nights.”

We’re exactly the market that the NAC wants (needs?), come to think of it. We’re old enough to have the income for a season subscription and we’re young enough that we can fill seats for years to come. And you know, we might just do that.

I’d love to keep our national arts centre alive and well — thriving! What suggestions do you have for the NAC to keep relevant?

Disclosure: I received wine, appetizers and two tickets to the show — with no strings attached. Thanks Jennifer and thanks NAC — much appreciated!


  1. Like you, Julie, I likely wouldn’t have bought tickets to this particular event but I ended up absolutely loving it. It was a fantastic night out, and the NAC orchestra was FANTASTIC as well as all the other talented acts. It was just phenomenal.

    I agree that the blogging night was a great idea – even just me tweeting and chatting about going brought a lot of questions from my friends. Suddenly a bunch of people were interested in going. As for suggestions for keeping the NAC relevant – I may not be the best one to answer that as we are season ticket holders and go quite regularly :) I have found the NAC’s service is always wonderful and they offer such good deals on their subscriptions, that it is often so much economical for us to buy that way.

  2. Shannon – One thing that I hear from subscription holders is that just the fact that they have the tickets gets them out the door for a date night. (Kind of like how having a trainer forces you to actually work-out.) Do you find that the season’s tickets do that for you too?

  3. My take exactly. Kudos to the NAC for their initiative. It is really great to be a part of such an important evolution.
    Oh, and I still can’t get over the wardrobe changes! Yikes. :)

  4. Sign me up!
    Really though, are there some blog requirements such as readership numbers or other connections needed?
    It sounds fabulous.
    And by no strings, it means you were under no obligation to blog or tweet?

  5. Great show for sure. I still fall for the “Magic” created by the illusions. Thrilling and baffling. Pops….hmmm…..yeah ok, I admit, I liked hearing the theme song to “I dream of Genie” Perhaps a season focused on the 30 to 40 demog could be part of the NAC’s filling the gaps dilemma. Better still “free babysitting” :-) Best part of the show though was a night out with my Sweetie.

  6. Yes, Julie, it has forced us to get out when we wouldn’t have otherwise gone out!! Some nights in the dead of winter I would be exhausted from my three kids and couldn’t fathom leaving the house to go downtown for a couple hours. But we always did (uh, cuz we paid for tickets!!) and every single time we truly enjoy it and have a wonderful time.

  7. @finola – The blogger night was an invite I received directly from the NAC. I’m not sure on what criteria is used. As for no obligation — you’re correct — no obligation to blog or tweet about it in a positive fashion and no obligation to blog or tweet about it at all, for that matter!

    @neimad – me too! 😉

  8. Seems like “blogger nights” are becoming the thing to do for a lot of different places. It must be proving to be a worthwhile marketing tool

  9. Love the concept, very creative. Happy to see things like this evolve. But really, I would love to have a husband who would be interested in doing this kind of stuff with me. Mine is very much NOT into it, as a result, I never get to make it a priority. I miss going to the NAC! Been a long time since I’ve been.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for a great post on the show and your experience Julie. I’m glad you could make it. We’re always open to new ideas and new bloggers, so if anyone out there has ideas, feel free to contact me at


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