The Year in Review: A Year of Firsts

Celebration underscores the NaAC’s Road to 50 years

The journey leading up to the National accessArts Centre’s (NaAC) 50th anniversary in 2025 has been filled with plenty of remarkable moments, and 2021-22 was no exception. In true NaAC form, the centre celebrated many firsts as it settled firmly into the national spotlight as Canada’s first multidisciplinary disability arts organization. 

Since rebranding from Indefinite Arts in 2020, the NaAC has expanded both its reach and its mandate to bring world-class training, presentation, and exhibition opportunities to its 350+ artists. 

“Our major focus over the past year has been on maintaining program excellence and expanding our offerings—which now span multiple artistic disciplines—and leaning into our new national mandate. I think we did that in spades.”

Jung-Suk (JS) Ryu, President and CEO, NaAC

The Sound of Musical Mentorship

JS is proud of the variety of multidisciplinary programs that flourished over the past year. Beyond visual arts, for which the organization has long been known, he’s excited to highlight exceptional musical successes that have emerged. 

This year, the NaAC paired seven neurodiverse artists with the world-renowned Rolston String Quartet for a first-of-its-kind musical mentorship collaboration called sound.ColLab. Experimenting with meaningful sounds from the artists’ everyday lives—a fire truck, for example—the musicians shaped sounds into musical notes and together created new musical works.

“It’s the first composition project of its kind, and it showcases a new side of classical music in Canada,” says JS. The two-year project evolved into a seven-miniature show that the Rolston String Quartet opened in Toronto and Calgary last year.

Meanwhile, another group of NaAC artists proved that you don’t have to be a professional musician to compose music. A five-person musical ensemble called The Science Fiction People demonstrated how far a mutual love for pop music and an inclination for sound can take you. Their 12-month journey exploring sound, software, and the five stages of music production culminated in a 10-track digital album called Robot Revelations. The album is available for download on all streaming platforms. 

BEGINNING: A National Conversation

Leaning into its mandate in more ways than one, the NaAC hosted the first national conversation around the needs of aspiring artists living with developmental disabilities. Hosted in Vancouver and Banff, the BEGINNING conference welcomed 80 delegates who gathered for keynotes and panels exploring topics relating to the disability arts sector.

“The conference explored questions around what our sector needs and the role of social workers, caregivers, and the mainstream art sector,” explains JS. “Most importantly, we asked questions about the perspectives of the artists we serve and how we can position them as leaders in the conversation.”

NaAC’s tremendous success has captured the attention of Canada’s mainstream art world, an important milestone for an organization always looking for ways to elevate the work of artists with disabilities. The NaAC was the first disability organization to be invited as a delegate at the Canadian Arts Summit, an annual gathering of Canada’s most prominent art institutions.

“Having space in that conversation is an important step,” says JS, adding that he’s always looking to the future and what’s next for the NaAC. “We will continue to advocate for professional opportunities that advance our artists’ practices and for partnerships that help get us there.”

While the NaAC is still navigating what it means to be national, it has begun to embrace its national leadership position, says JS:

“The National Gallery of Canada is the pinnacle of exhibition opportunities for the country’s best artists and the National Arts Centre is the pinnacle of performing arts in Canada. We believe the NaAC is the pinnacle of excellence in arts training and creation for our community of artists living with disabilities.”

Progress Through Partnerships

As the NaAC continues to evolve and grow, JS says partnerships will continue to strengthen its national visibility. Take the Won Lee partnership for example, which grew the NaAC’s presence in Toronto with a hub for Canadian artists. 

Last May, the family of the late Canadian sculptor Won Lee—who lived with a disability—donated a substantial portion of his works and his former studio to the NaAC. The $2.5 million real estate gift, which the NaAC will repurpose into an artist-in-residence studio for artists with disabilities, is the NaAC’s largest donation to date.

“This partnership created the first real estate asset for the organization and gives us a presence in Canada’s largest city,” says JS, adding that the partnership also provides tools to explore what being national means.

A New Home for the Arts

While the Won Lee studio gives the NaAC visibility in Toronto, JS says that a home of its own in Calgary would position the western Canadian city as the epicenter of the disability arts in Canada. In fact, planning is now under way for a $12-million arts venue that will feature a visual arts gallery, a multi-purpose presentation venue, and outdoor gathering spaces.

“There are ongoing conversations around providing us with the right resources and support to realize our vision of creating an accessible arts campus in Calgary,” says JS, adding that programming partners, donors, and advocates are all key to creating a new home for NaAC’s artist community.

“We strive to be the national place where artists with disabilities shine and there are limitless opportunities to train and create. No other arts organization that focuses on artists with disabilities comes close to the opportunities that we’re able to extend to our artists.”

Jung-Suk (JS) Ryu, President and CEO, NaAC

Join the NaAC on June 20 for the organization’s virtual Annual General Meeting. NaAC artists will share their stories and celebrate the past year’s accomplishments, many firsts that set the stage for more unparalleled programs to come. RSVP by emailing


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