Presentation of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards
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Rideau Hall, Friday, May 13, 2011
What a pleasure it is for my wife, Sharon, and I to welcome you to Rideau Hall this evening. Tonight, we kick off a two-day celebration of the performing arts that will culminate tomorrow evening with the National Arts Centre gala, which promises to be a truly remarkable event.
This is my first opportunity as governor general to present these awards, which were established almost 20 years ago under the patronage of my predecessor, the late Right Honourable Ramon John Hnatyshyn. As you likely know, Mr. Hnatyshyn was an outstanding advocate for the performing arts in Canada. And that is in no small part thanks to the efforts of his wife, Gerda, whom I am delighted to welcome back to Rideau Hall for this occasion.
Mrs. Hnatyshyn, we are all grateful for the extraordinary support you have given to the performing artists of this country. And, while I cannot guarantee a repeat performance on the scale of His Excellency’s Most Excellent Rock Concert—which you held on these grounds while in office—I promise to do my very best for the arts during my tenure as governor general.
I believe that art is a form of knowledge, and that creativity and learning are deeply interrelated. Another predecessor of mine—Vincent Massey—referred to artists as “interpreters,” and spoke of the power of art to broaden our horizons, to stimulate our imaginations and to make us better citizens.
The performing arts have long been central to our lives in Canada. We have records of this dating back more than 400 years, to the time of Samuel de Champlain, when members of the fledgling settlement at Port-Royal staged one of the earliest European theatrical performances on the continent. The play was called Le Théâtre de Neptune, and it presented a vision of settlers and First Nations living together and celebrating all that is good and peaceful.
Through this remarkable play, written by a newcomer named Marc Lescarbot who arrived from France in 1606, the people of Port-Royal expressed a vision of the society of which they dreamed.
Centuries later, we still look to our most visionary artists and performers to articulate our dreams and inspire us.
These awards are a wonderful symbol of our appreciation for the performing arts in this country. And as your accomplishments demonstrate, Canadians are centre stage when it comes to excellence in the performing arts.
Working behind the scenes and in the spotlight, you play leading roles in our culture, speaking to our individuality and to our shared humanity through theatre, dance, film, broadcasting, and classical and popular music.
Your work transcends borders, backgrounds and languages, reflecting our heritage and the times in which we live. You entertain us, provoke us and make us laugh, and your ideas are a vital source of renewal for our society.
And, not least, you support and point the way for our artists and future visionaries through acts of volunteerism and generosity.
We are truly fortunate at Rideau Hall to host some of the finest performers in Canada, including many young people who are destined for brilliant careers. Since our arrival, Sharon and I have had the pleasure of hearing a performance in this ballroom by young musicians with the Glenn Gould Foundation. And, just last month, we were treated to a brilliant production by students of the National Theatre School.
The arts continue to inspire new generations of Canadians, and I want to commend you for your efforts—both formally through the Mentorship Program and informally in your daily lives and work—to encourage younger artists.
By nature, the performing arts are collaborative, fusing diverse backgrounds, talents and disciplines in a shared creative effort. This is another way in which the arts can show us the way forward, and I would like to take this opportunity to look ahead as we approach an important milestone in our history—Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
Since my installation, I have been inviting Canadians to join me in imagining our country as it could be. Like those early actors and playwrights in Port-Royal, we are counting on our artists to help us imagine a smarter, more caring Canada.
Your passion, creativity, humour and generosity are essential to the country, and indeed the world, of which we dream.
I want to congratulate you on your extraordinary contributions to our culture and to the performing arts worldwide. On behalf of all Canadians, thank you.