Federal funding helped 'keep the lights on,' says NAC head

The National Arts Centre shed some light Thursday on the financial precipice they were balancing on last year, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the Canadian arts community.

National Arts Centre got $18.2M 'lifeline' last summer to address pandemic costs

A pedestrian walks past the National Arts Centre last April. The NAC's president and CEO says their financial situation got so 'dire' last year that without $18.2 million in federal funding, they wouldn't have been able to keep the lights on. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

An $18.2-million injection of cash from the federal government last summer was a "lifeline" that helped the National Arts Centre (NAC) keep the lights on during the pandemic, its president and CEO says.

Christopher Deacon shed some light Thursday on the financial precipice the performing arts centre was balancing on last year, during an online presentation of its annual report.

In July 2020, Canadian Heritage announced it would be providing the NAC and other cultural institutions emergency cash to help address costs incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That funding was integral, Deacon said, given that the NAC saw nearly 55 per cent of its revenue — from ticket, food and drink sales, corporate events and even parking receipts — disappear "overnight."

At the same time, the NAC's cash flow was also in peril due to "a big decrease in ticket sales" stemming from the two years the building was undergoing its $110-million architectural redesign, Deacon said.

'Dire' situation

"With the cancellation of performances, we could possibly [have faced] a situation where we simply would not have been able to keep the lights on," said Deacon. 

"It was that dire."

The Canadian Heritage funding went toward paying the salaries of full-time employees, covering the costs of digital programming, and performing upgrades to parts of the facility like the parking garage, which wasn't touchless, he said.

At the same time, the NAC was also helped out by donations from across the country, he added.

"The $18.2 million was a lifeline without which we certainly would not have been able to operate," Deacon said.

As for when in-person performances would resume, he said the NAC would be "technically ready" by the spring but the actual relaunch would depend on public health guidelines.

The current orange zone restrictions in Ottawa only allow for 50 audience members in the entire NAC building at any one time, he pointed out.

"We are really, as [are] so many sectors of society right now, really dependent on the progress of the vaccination of Canadians and the success we have in countering the pandemic," Deacon said.

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