Have the audacity to dream big
The following is an excerpt from a speech by Peter Herrndorf, former president of the National Arts Centre, at a University of Ottawa graduation ceremony:
Canada’s artists are arguably this country’s most important “export product”… and increasingly, they symbolize Canada for the world.
When many of you travel internationally over the next few years, ask the people you meet what they actually know about Canada.
I suspect they’ll tell you that the people who really define Canada for them … are our artists.
Just think of our extraordinary fiction writers. Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize. Last month, Esi Edugyan was named as a finalist for the 2018 International Man Booker Prize.
Margaret Atwood has already won The Man Booker Prize … and rumour has it she is the leading contender for the 2019 Nobel Prize in literature. And 26-year-old Rupi Kaur is the best-selling poet in the world.
Quebec filmmakers are regularly sought after in Hollywood. Jean-Marc Vallée, directed C.R.A.Z.Y., The Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Denis Villeneuve directed Blade Runner 2049, starring his fellow Canadian Ryan Gosling. Gosling is currently starring as astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man.
A great many talented Canadian actors have also made highly successful careers in the international film and television world.
There’s Rachel McAdams, who recently appeared in the film Obedience. The other Ryan — Ryan Reynolds — is one of the most popular leading men in Hollywood. Ottawa’s own Sandra Oh received an Emmy nomination for her starring role in the thrilling new television series Killing Eve. So did Samantha Bee, the host and creator of the late night show Full Frontal.
Canadians, of course, have an unmistakeable flair for comedy. Saturday Night Live has been produced by a Canadian (Lorne Michaels) for more than 40 years. SCTV with legendary comedians like Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and the late John Candy … remains a hallmark of comedy. Another unforgettable SCTV alumnus, Martin Short, is touring a live comedy show with Steve Martin across North America.
In theatre, the Stratford production of Coriolanus by the extraordinary Quebec City theatre-maker Robert Lepage, received a rave review in the New York Times. Cirque du Soleil continues to be one of the most successful performing arts companies in the world.
And then, there’s music.
Drake’s Scorpion became the first album to have its singles spend 29 cumulative weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. The Weeknd has had eight top 10 songs on Billboard’s “Hot 100” list … and has won three Grammys and nine Juno awards. Canada has cornered the market on great women singers with superstars like Céline Dion, Ginette Reno, Isabelle Boulay, Shania Twain, Buffy Sainte-Marie, k.d. lang, and Joni Mitchell.
And last summer, the American Repertory Theatre company in Boston produced a new hit musical inspired by Alanis Morrisette’s landmark album Jagged Little Pill.
Canadian classical musicians like Louis Lortie and Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt perform in concert halls all over the world. The late pianist Glenn Gould will remain an icon for generations of music lovers to come.
We live in an amazing time for creativity in Canada ... and that creativity is also beginning to drive the Canadian economy. At $47.8 billion, the arts, culture and heritage sector is twice as large as the Canadian agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry and significantly larger than Canada’s hotel and food industry.
And every year, Canadians spend $1.4 billion on “live” performing arts — that’s more than twice as much as they spend on all sports events put together.
The artists and the arts organizations that I’ve mentioned today all have had the audacity to dream big dreams. They’ve had the courage to pursue those dreams. And they’ve had the tenacity to keep going until those dreams came true.
I hope the Canadian artists that I’ve talked about today will inspire each of you to pursue your individual dreams with passion and great single-mindedness. This country deserves no less.