Jann Arden shines at NAC Gala’s celebration of women artists

$1M raised for Adrian Burns Fund for Women Leaders in the Performing Arts in honour of outgoing chair

Jann Arden at NAC performance
Jann Arden performed at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov, 5, 2022. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography
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Something very special happened at the National Arts Centre Gala on Saturday night.

It took place while Canadian singing legend Jann Arden and her musicians were on stage with the NAC Orchestra, performing her 1994 hit Could I Be Your Girl. Several audience members in the front row of Southam Hall rose to their feet and began moving rhythmically to the music, their arms waving in the air. Their action prompted more people to join in. Soon, the majority of the audience of nearly 2,000 was clapping, singing along and swaying to the music, looking happy and carefree while collectively connecting to the music.

The gala concert was the perfect high note for Adrian Burns to end her time as chair of the board of trustees at the NAC. She steps down this December, after 20 years on the board. She’s served as chair for the past eight of them.

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“I think that this was the National Arts Centre at its best,” she proudly told OBJ.social after the show was over.

“I’ve known Jann Arden for years but I think she pulled out all the stops,” said Burns, calling the performance from the nine-time Juno Award winner “fabulous”.

The evening marked a superb comeback for the gala, which was last held in 2019, before COVID crushed concerts and crowds everywhere.

After the show, everyone could take advantage of clocks going back an hour by heading to the free party in the lobby. There was also a 350-person dinner held with top corporate sponsors and individual donors on Southam Hall stage.

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Jann Arden and the NAC Orchestra, led by conductor Elizabeth Baird, performed at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography
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Corporate sponsors and individuals donors of the NAC Gala dined on the Southam Hall stage following the live concert with Jann Arden and the NAC Orchestra on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography

Well-known journalist and ardent music lover Paul Wells saw the strong audience engagement during the concert as a positive sign for the NAC, a national showcase for the performing arts. “It’s actually really important that the community can feel like this is their house, too,” Wells told OBJ.social at the post-concert reception. For the record, he did not groove during the show (“I’m a bit of a stick in the mud”, he joked, self-deprecatingly) but his wife, Lisa Samson, did.

Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, called Arden’s performance “absolutely incredible” to watch. “I think there’s nothing more important than coming together at a concert at the NAC to experience this exodus from a very difficult time and our future together through music.”

Making the night even more memorable was the news that the gala had raised just over $1 million for the Adrian Burns Fund for Women Leaders in the Performing Arts. The announcement was made on stage by honorary chair Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Jayne Watson, CEO of the NAC Foundation. With Remembrance Day right around the corner, Watson wore a very pretty poppy-printed dress by Canadian designer Tanya Taylor.

The new fund will create opportunities across the country for professional skills development in the performing arts for women while, at the same time, honouring the legacy of a leader. That Burns served 20 years on the NAC board is remarkable, Watson told OBJ.social earlier, as she and NAC president and CEO Christopher Deacon prepared to greet arriving guests. “I think it shows how highly regarded she is among the circles that makes those decisions,” said Watson, calling Burns a trailblazer.

Burns, who was born and raised in Regina, has strong ties to Calgary and Ottawa. She’s had a distinguished and brilliant career in business, corporate and public governance, broadcasting, and the arts. She’s received numerous awards and recognitions, including being honorary captain of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Burns and her husband, lawyer Greg Kane, first got involved with the NAC around 1990 through its annual fundraising gala. They went on to chair the event, both separately and together.

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Adrian Burns, outgoing chair of the National Arts Centre board of trustees, with her husband, Greg Kane, at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Christopher Deacon, president and CEO of the National Arts Centre, with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, honorary chair of the NAC Gala, NAC board chair Adrian Burns, and Grégoire Trudeau’s mother, Estelle Blais, at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, mezzo-soprano Simona Genga, soprano Jonelle Sills and conductor Cosette Justo Valdés following their performance at the NAC Gala, accompanied by the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography
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Jann Arden, accompanied by the NAC Orchestra, performed at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo credit: George Pimentel Photography

This year’s NAC Gala concert was about shining the spotlight on women artists. The first half of the show featured the NAC Orchestra under the baton of Cuban-born Cosette Justo Valdés, resident conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Also featured were the talents of soprano Jonelle Sills and mezzo-soprano Simona Genga.

After intermission, Arden took to the stage. She was joined by maestro Elizabeth Baird, who was serenaded with the Happy Birthday song on her special day by the Arden, the orchestra and an audience that sounded, joked Arden, like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

While Arden was wickedly funny throughout, making her audience laugh at every turn, she also shared some personal stuff. She talked about how her father’s alcoholism and unpredictable behaviour led to her developing an interest in music. She would escape down to the basement to pass time with her mom’s old guitar while listening to vinyl records from Columbia House. “I’d start making up songs when I was 10 or 11 years old,” said Arden about life’s silver linings.

Arden, who hails from rural southern Alberta, also expressed deep concerns over Canada as a divided country, telling the audience that the nation will recover with some “patience and just a little bit of breathing room”.

As  well, she told her listeners how much she’s enjoyed being an unofficial ambassador for Canada during her three decades of touring around the world. “I’m proud to be from here. I’m so proud. Nothing is going to diminish that. I’m never not going to be a Canadian girl, and I owe this country everything I have.”

Among the attendees were Lt. Gov. of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, Ottawa mayor-elect Mark Sutcliffe and outgoing mayor Jim Watson, Canada Council for the Arts CEO Simon Brault, CBC president and CEO Catherine Tait, retired NAC CEO Peter Herrndorf, and deputy minister Isabelle Mondoufrom Canadian Heritage. Also seen was Ottawa’s busiest banker Marjolaine Hudon, regional president of RBC, which was among the major sponsors.

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Treasury Board President Mona Fortier makes her arrival on the red carpet for the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Marjolaine Hudon, regional president of RBC Royal Bank of Canada, with her husband, project management consultant John McCourt, on the red carpet for the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, NAC board chair Adrian Burns with Lt. Gov. of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who, like Burns, has Saskatchewan roots. They were seen chatting together at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, singer-songwriter Tara Shannon with Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, and Beth Potter, president and CEO of Tourism Industry Association of Canada, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson seen at the post-concert reception with Gina Spingle during the NAC Gala held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, NAC Gala honorary chair Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was greeted upon her arrival by NAC representatives, including board chair Adrian Burns, at this year’s gala held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Annabelle Cloutier, executive director of strategy and communications for the National Arts Centre, with Order of Canada member Cathy Levy, outgoing executive director of NAC Dance, at the NAC Gala held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Eva Czigler and her husband, Peter Herrndorf, retired president and CEO of the National Arts Centre, seen with journalist and arts supporter Paul Wells, host of The Paul Wells Show podcast, and his wife, Lisa Samson, managing principal of StrategyCorp’s Ottawa office, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Marjolaine Hudon, regional president of RBC Royal Bank of Canada, with guests Andrew Waitman, CEO of Assent Compliance, and his wife, Heidi Hauver, VP of people experience at Shinydocs, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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NAC Foundation board member Susan Peterson d’Aquino with her husband, Thomas d’Aquino, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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NAC board chair Adrian Burns and her granddaughter, Maren Burns, 17, greet Treasury Board President Mona Fortier following her arrival to the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, with his wife, National Arts Centre board trustee Louise Sicuro, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Teresa Marques, president and CEO of the Rideau Hall Foundation, on the red carpet for the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, with her husband, Elder Marques, law partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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John Goldsmith, retired from the Canada Council for the Arts, seen with CBC/Radio-Canada president and CEO Catherine Tait at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Christopher Deacon, president and CEO of the NAC Gala, with Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister of Canadian Heritage, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Syrian born Arab-Canadian entrepreneur Mohammad Al Zaibak, co-founder of several information technology services companies, with his wife, Najla, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, November 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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NAC Foundation board member Liza Mrak, executive vice president and co-owner of event sponsor Mark Motors Group, with her husband,  Gary Zed, CEO of Canada’s Forest Trust, at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Emond Harnden law partner Carole Piette with the firm’s HR and operations manager, Sara Florakas, and marketing and communications manager Mastaneh Karimi at the NAC Gala, held Saturday, Nov. 4, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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NAC Foundation board member Gregory Sanders, partner of estates & trusts and tax law at KPMG Law LLP, with his wife, Tani Sanders, at the NAC Gala held Saturday, Nov. 4, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Renfroe Land Management president David Renfroe, board president of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association, with his wife, Rebecca, and Andrea Laurin with her husband, Dennis Laurin, owner of general contracting firm Laurin Group, during intermission at the NAC Gala featuring Jann Arden with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Winnipeg resident Susan Glass, who’s the new chair of the NAC Foundation board, with her entrepreneur husband, Arni Thorsteinson, at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa’s newly elected mayor, Mark Sutcliffe, seen with his wife, Ginny Sutcliffe, during intermission at the NAC Gala concert with the NAC Orchestra and Jann Arden, held at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Compass Rose strategic advisor and former PMO policy head Marci Surkes with Treasury Board President Mona Fortier at the NAC Gala on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa lawyer Paula Clancy, a partner at Gowling WLG, with three of her daughters, Cristi, 24, Ashley, 17, and 22-year-old Stephanie Clancy, at the post-concert reception for the NAC Gala, which shone a light on women artists this year. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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A DJ kept the party hopping during the NAC Gala’s post-concert reception on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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