The inaugural season of the National Arts Centre's Indigenous Theatre will go forward in a "greatly diminished capacity" this year after $3.5 million of requested federal funding was denied.
Award-winning playwright Kevin Loring, the first-ever artistic director of the NAC's Indigenous program, issued a letter on Facebook lamenting a lack of support from Canadian Heritage in the 2019 federal budget.
He said it will have a tangible impact on the first season, leaving the Ottawa-based performing arts centre to rely on fundraising efforts to support the Indigenous program. The scope of any subsequent seasons remains in question.
"Without ongoing financial support, we will not have the capacity to achieve our vision and full impact," Loring wrote.
"I have now been put in the disturbing position of overseeing a department whose creation and existence is a financial burden to an already stressed institution," he added.
The federal money would've gone towards funding the Indigenous Theatre in future seasons, said NAC spokeswoman Annabelle Cloutier. Over $2 million was raised through various corporate and private donors to get the project off the ground this year, and a portion of that money is tapped out.
"At this point, we're still looking at the impact," she said.
"Our intention is there will be a first season and the productions already planned for... We're trying to be creative about how we're going to make this happen."
Cloutier noted the NAC still hopes to work with the government towards a permanent funding structure.
A representative for Canadian Heritage said the government supports the performing arts and Indigenous art, having "recently invested $225 million to support the renewal of the National Arts Centre."
"The Government of Canada has never invested so much in the reconciliation process," said Canadian Heritage spokeswoman Martine Courage the emailed statement.
Loring said in his post he was "tempted to resign in protest at the news of this funding denial," but would instead honour his commitment to supporting Indigenous storytellers.
But the lack of federal financial backing throws uncertainty into how the Indigenous Theatre will roll out its first season this September, timed for the NAC's 50th anniversary.
Former CEO Peter Herrndorf launched the Indigenous Theatre project nearly two years ago with a vision of partnering with other theatre companies across the country. The goal was to elevate awareness and platforms for Indigenous arts and bring performances to different regions, hiring Indigenous staff and working in remote communities.
Those resources will be pressured under a smaller budget, Loring said in his post, as will professional development and engagement with other Indigenous artists.
Loring, whose history with the NAC dates back well over a decade, won the 2009 Governor General's Award for English Language Drama for the play "Where the Blood Mixes," which examined the intergenerational effects of the residential school system.
The NAC is a crown corporation with an annual budget of $70 million. Nearly half comes from government funding, and the rest from ticket sales, fundraising, facility rentals and other revenue.
The first season's lineup of NAC's Indigenous Theatre is scheduled to be announced on April 30.