From the Studio to the Stage

A sneak peek at the 2023-24 program and event season

With 350 artists supported each week across six disciplines, the National accessArts Centre (NaAC) has cemented its place as Canada’s oldest and largest disability arts organization—and the country’s first to offer multidisciplinary programming. But as Karly Mortimer, Director, Artist & Program Development, explains, the organization is just getting started. 

“When I joined in 2018, we had just opened our doors five days a week. We were running one program and a lot of our artists would come for two or four hours a week,” says Karly. “But if we think about ourselves as professional practicing artists, that doesn’t really cut it in terms of developing an artistic practice.” 

This year, the NaAC is running 15 programs a week. That’s an increase of 20 hours of instruction for artists with disabilities every single week, says Karly, adding that artists come in for five to 10 hours per week. This also means artists can choose from a number of development opportunities that meet their personal and professional needs. 

Artists at the NaAC are developing new bodies of work, experimenting and learning new ways of creating, and presenting or exhibiting their works in new venues. Thankfully, we’ll get to see much of that work come to fruition. Karly says: 

“We’ll really be able to see the broad range of work our artists have been doing. 2023 is going to be a big year for us! Expect big performances, big exhibitions, and even bigger programs and projects.”

New methods for a new year

Now in the third year of its 2021-2024 Strategic Plan [read the report], the NaAC is ready to put into practice many of the learnings from previous years. “We’ve learned new ways of working, and we’re ready to implement them,” says Karly. “That’s what’s so exciting about this moment!” 

She references the Indigenous Ways of Knowing program. Launched in 2022, the program focused on local Indigenous histories, art practices, and storytelling. For one year, a group of eight artists and two facilitators met weekly—sometimes with guest Elders and Indigenous artists—to learn how to respect the cultural practices of Indigenous people. 

“They’ve been exploring what Indigenous relationships look like and how they intersect with disability justice. Our organization never hosted those conversations before. Now that we have some learnings, we’re really excited to apply them to the new year.” 

Karly Mortimer, Director, Artist & Program Development, NaAC

In addition to teaching their fellow artists, the group will share what they’ve learned with the larger community through a series of public workshops in Calgary and an exhibition in fall 2023 with the Leighton Art Centre (thanks to the generous support of Canada Council for the Arts). 

“It’ll be the first time we see public programming conceived of and designed by NaAC artists,” says Karly. Another first for the growing organization. 

Learn more about the Indigenous Ways of Knowing program from Richelle Bear Hat, Coordinator, Indigenous Programs, at the NaAC. 

A digital revolution

Throughout the last year, a group of NaAC artists were challenged to do something they had never done before: create an entire album’s worth of music. They dubbed themselves the Science Fiction People and got to work co-producing a complete 10-track digital album called “Robot Revelation.”  

“It’s an amazing concept album about a group of robots coming to consciousness,” explains Karly. “It weaves in nods to old-timey radio, R&B, science fiction, and pop culture. It really is an incredible album.” 

With album artwork complete, the group is ready to release it [at a public event] in 2023. “We’re going to see how far the artists have gone into the concept of the album in all aspects of it,” Karly says.

But that’s just the beginning of exciting public presentations. Following a screening of “Into the Unknown,” artists from the Super 8 Filmmaking program have been invited to participate in Artifact Small Format Film Festival. This three-week community class gave filmmakers and enthusiasts an opportunity to learn about Super 8 analog filmmaking. The results were out of this world.

“I was floored by the excitement that artists had and how they were able to work as a collaborative unit,” says Karly. “The works that we’ve seen so far coming out of the Film and Media program have really been amazing. I’m really excited to see where that momentum takes us.” 

Pushing borders—and boundaries

Back in the studio, the dance ensemble has been in residence at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) creating and practicing choreography for a presentation at Tangent Danse in Montreal next January.

“They’re taking some of the things that we learned from Daniel Vais [Executive Artistic Director of Culture Device and Drag Syndrome] last spring, and leaning into the discoveries that we had during that intensive,” Karly says. “It’s going to be a really exciting performance piece!” 

Further abroad, NaAC will play a key role in celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and the Republic of Korea. Intense Difference of Its Own: 60 Years of Korean-Canadian Diplomatic Relations will feature more than 60 works created by NaAC artists, including excerpts from productions in dance and music. The exhibition will run from June to August 2023 at the prestigious Korea Foundation Gallery in Seoul before traveling to Ottawa. 

“It’s the biggest international exhibition that we’ve done. It’s exciting to see how we can use disability arts as an important cornerstone of cultural diplomacy. Our artists are proud to participate in an exhibition of this size and scale and importance.” 

Karly Mortimer, Director, Artist & Program Development, NaAC

Gaining momentum

With so much incredible work already in progress, and more in store, there’s no stopping the disability arts organization—or the artists it serves.

“We’re going to see artists with disabilities in dance festivals. We’re going to see them in film festivals. We are going to see them at contemporary art institutions in Calgary and across the world.”

Karly Mortimer, Director, Artist & Program Development, NaAC

And it’s all thanks to the artists and arts administrators themselves.

“We have been working towards this moment. The NaAC team and our artist team have been working so hard to create these possibilities and create something real,” says Karly. “We couldn’t have done it without them.” 


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