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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In today's Globe & Mail:
Art Gallery of Ontario

Cost: $254-million

Completion date: 2008

Square footage before: 486,000

(public and back-of-house)

After: 583,000

Frank Gehry, the world's most famous living architect, got his first big taste of art and culture in the 1930s when, as a child, he was taken to what was then the Art Gallery of Toronto just north of his grandparents' house. Devotees of karma therefore were extremely pleased when the AGO announced in late 2002 that it had hired

the Los Angeles-based Gehry as the lead architect for an ambitious retrofit and expansion to its 106-year-old site -- Gehry's first-ever major public commission in the city where he was born, in 1929.

Will the renovation -- to house, among other elements, the acquisitions of Kenneth Thomson, Canada's most famous art collector -- do for Toronto what Gehry's Museo Guggenheim has so famously done for Bilbao, Spain? Certainly he's giving architecture buffs lots

to consider, including a massive 425-foot-long exterior canopy

of Douglas fir and glass, as well as a plunging spiral atrium staircase that a former dean of architecture at the University of Toronto is already lauding as being just "so sexy." Gehry thinks it's "the kind

of place where you might meet your future wife." International art lovers, in the meantime, will flock to see The Massacre of the Innocents, a previously unknown Rubens canvas from approximately 1612 that Thomson bought at auction in 2002 for almost $120-million, still a world-record price.

National Ballet School

Cost: $100-million

Completion date: Jarvis Street campus

opened 2005, Maitland Street residences,


Square footage before: 80,000

After: 260,000

Ballet schools have the reputation, deserved or not, of being dens of eating disorders. But one of the first things you notice when you stroll into the interior of the new campus of the National Ballet School is the smell of food. That's because the NBS has put its primary food services and lounge area -- collectively called Town Square -- right on the ground floor by the main entrance on Jarvis Street.

"It's about the idea of nourishment," explains administrative director Robert Sirman, "a healthy dancer program against the notion of ballet as a starving profession."

About 180 full-time students attend the NBS each year, with another 800 part-timers taking after-school and weekend classes. Previously, these learners did their pirouettes and pliés in small studios housed in a row of cramped, noisy, Victorian-era buildings. Now they're doing them in 12 airy, light-filled studios, the largest being almost 4,000 square feet -- the same size as the stage of Toronto's Hummingbird Centre.

The high-ceilinged studios are located

in a glassy pavilion, designed by Toronto's Goldsmith Borgal & Co. and KPMB Architects, that artfully weaves alongside and behind two renovated heritage buildings: the former Havergal Ladies' College, built in 1898 and 1901, that served as a major studio for CBC Radio

into the mid-1990s; and Northfield House, a yellow-brick mansion built in

Set for completion next year are renovations to and enlargements of the

old buildings on Maitland Street. These will include dormitories, a dining hall, common rooms and study areas. Clearly if Mao Zedong had been a ballet aficionado, this would have been his idea of a bloodless great leap forward. Or, as the NBS itself calls it, "un grand jeté." -- James Adams

Royal Ontario Museum

Cost: $244-million

Completion date: Late fall, 2006 (Crystal),

spring, 2007 (Heritage Galleries)

Square footage before:

309,796 (public space)

After: 388,239 (public space)

The Royal Ontario Museum has occupied one of Toronto's premier pieces of real estate for close to 100 years, and it's done so with dignity and restraint. With Renaissance ROM, the venerable institution with a permanent collection of more than five million objects is literally thrusting itself into Toronto's city space, thanks to the eye-popping aluminum-and-glass "crystal" that architect Daniel Libeskind first sketched on a cocktail napkin in 2001.

The ROM's official address is still 100 Queen's Park, but with the opening of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, the museum's public face -- not to mention its dinosaur collections -- will be front and centre on Bloor Street West. While the Crystal's aggressively jagged, glacier-like forms (inspired by Libeskind's fascination with the ROM's mineral collection) are indisputably the museum's new visual signature, the transformation also includes the completion of more than 25 new and renovated galleries in the stately wings that were erected in 1914 and 1933. For Torontonians, the ROM has never lacked landmark status. But its dramatic overhaul, coupled with new programs and the display of heretofore unseen riches, promises to turn it into a major destination.

Royal Conservatory of Music

Cost: $95-million

Completion date: Late fall, 2007

Square footage before: 83,000

After: 190,000

Marianne McKenna of KPMB has confessed that being lead architect for the expansion of the Royal Conservatory of Music has caused her to lose a few nights' sleep. It's because the project calls for a lot of stuff to be squeezed onto a tight site. It's hemmed in by the Royal Ontario Museum and a creek-bed path called Philosopher's Walk to the east and University of Toronto lands to the south and west. Dominating it all is McMaster Hall, a historic hunk of red-brick Victoriana that's been the RCM's home since the mid-1960s. To make room for what's now the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning, McKenna is bulking up behind, around and down from McMaster and adjacent Mazzoleni Hall. The centre will include at least 60 new classrooms and studios, a rehearsal hall, a rooftop restaurant, a library, a new-media centre, a climate-controlled space to store the RCM's $1-million collection of vintage instruments and a wired 1,140-seat concert hall that's being hyped as "acoustically perfect." Acoustics were

the big nut cracked by KPMB's $24-million enhancement of Roy Thomson Hall.

The RCM, of course, is a national institution whose programs engage more than 400,000 Canadians a year. One of them

is Aline Chrétien, wife of the former prime minister, who passed her Grade 6 RCM piano exam in 1999 and now serves

as honorary chair of the conservatory's advisory council. She still practises. Another alumnus, Torontonian Ian Ihnatowycz, entertained visions of being a concert pianist in the 1960s, only to go into pharmacology and business administration. Luckily for the RCM, he retained his fondness for music, and gave $4-million to the conservatory. As a result, McMaster and Mazzoleni Halls will collectively be known as Ihnatowycz Hall.

Under construction

1. Michael and Sonja Koerner Concert Hall.

2. Three glass lobby levels above orchestral studio spaces

3. Studios, classrooms; dressing rooms; storage

4. Entry, box office and rehearsal studios

Gardiner Museum

Cost: $20-million

Completion date: Summer, 2006

Square footage before:

19,000 (public space)

After: 29,000

Nestled beside the neoclassical splendour of what was once the University of Toronto's home-economics school, just across the road from the Royal Ontario Museum, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art has been praised for more than 20 years as a "tiny, perfect jewel box." Now the museum's hoping a much-anticipated renovation and expansion designed by noted Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara will take it from the "highly admired but insufficiently visited" category into a highly visible, much-frequented showcase of pre-Columbian earthenware, and 18th-century European and 20th-century ceramics, including works by Picasso and Miro. The theme for the Gardiner expansion, "All Fired Up!," may seem a little, well, cranked up for what's going on. As Kuwabara has noted, the Gardiner is already a superb example of "how beautiful small can be." He sees his contribution as an homage of sorts to the original architect, Keith Wagland, who was one of his teachers in Toronto in the 1970s.

New third level

Kuwabara's revamp is highlighted by a new third floor of almost 4,200 square feet, which will feature a natural-light gallery for temporary or travelling exhibitions and a restaurant overseen by Jamie Kennedy, the well-known chef who came to prominence during Toronto's 1980s boom. Expanded educational facilities, including four studios, are being installed in what used to be the museum's underground staff parking lot.

Four Seasons Centre

Cost: $181-million (includes $31-million

land donated by the Ontario government)

Completion date: Summer, 2006

Square footage before: n/a

After: 377,000

It's only taken Canada's largest city more than a quarter-century to get its own purpose-built opera house. But good things are supposed to take time, aren't they? Still, when the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts hosts its first concert, in June, it will mark an end of sorts to one of the longest-running soap operas in Canadian cultural history. The building, on the avenue that is Toronto's answer to the Champs Élysées, may not be quite the eye-popping icon that some opera buffs believe should be the pay-off for more than three decades of sweat, tears, rising hopes and dashed dreams, not to mention the vagaries of renting space at the Hummingbird Centre. Most, however, are sighing with relief that the Canadian Opera Company, along with the National Ballet of Canada, finally has a 2,000-seat home where all the sight lines are good and the sound promises to be equal to (or better than) that at the Lyric Opera of Chicago or the Stuttgart in Germany.

The opera house is being pitched as an accessible "people place" -- an aspiration perhaps best exemplified by the high glass curtain wall for the main lobby that runs parallel to University Avenue. Signifiers

of pomp and circumstance -- red velvet, gilt, dark wood, ornamentation -- are also absent in the horseshoe-shaped R. Fraser Elliott Hall. At the same time, it's not entirely bereft of swank: There's a Grand Ring of 21 boxes that can hold anywhere from two to 12 patrons, plus access

to a private lounge, bar and washrooms. The boxes also have individual light and sound locks. Which means they're the only places in the hall where you can enter and leave a production at your discretion. Cost? Oh, $100,000 might get you on the list, but if you really want to clinch a spot, a $5-million cheque should do it.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
RENAISSANCE CITY: The billion-dollar baby

art gallery$244m


opera house $119m

concert hall$100m

ballet school$20m


Six days a week for the past two years, Ted Ollmann, 62, a crane operator with a titanium knee, has begun his 4:30 a.m. climb up a yellow Liebherr hammerhead crane at the Royal Ontario Museum construction site. Once in the cab, 20 storeys above Toronto's Bloor Street, Ollmann lifts steel beams and panels, swings them into place and lowers them to waiting workmen. He's become a nameless hero to admirers in the Park Hyatt roof bar over the way. "We've seen him go up in the winter," says bartender Cordell Barker. "It's gotta be brutal."

But there are compensations -- such as Ollmann's view of the sun rising over his strenuously striving city, now in the midst of an unprecedented cultural building boom. Until it was blocked by new buildings, he had a long view of the Ontario College of Art and Design's Dalmatian-spotted addition on stilts (he helped build that one) and of the Art Gallery of Ontario, its old face recently torn off to make way for architect Frank Gehry's billowing new design. To his right, he has a perfect bird's-eye view of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's messy renovation, and to his left, the even bigger mess -- open wound, really -- of the Royal Conservatory of Music's reconstruction site.

"I've worked in Iran, Algeria, Singapore, on the rigs in the Beaufort Sea," Ollmann says. "Toronto is unique." There's so much building going on, he must stay in radio contact with the RCM crane next door lest they swing into one another's area. "I still do have anxious moments."

So does Toronto. So do the private donors, and the federal and provincial governments that have together poured almost $900-million into the crane-shadowed pits that pockmark Canada's largest city. A generation ago, an astonished Toronto was energized when its multicultural neighbourhoods won favour from international urban thinkers such as Jane Jacobs. Then, for 30 years, the city the rest of Canada loves to hate cruised back into mediocrity. Today, it is regaining a sense of its own singular potential. In once derelict, now glamorous industrial lofts and hotels, indie rockers talk with hip architects and earnest young public-space activists about books like uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto and debate whether the term "Torontopia" has gone too far in "fetishizing" the city's newfound energy.

Does it matter that Philistine Hogtown, the wannabe New York and butt of Montrealers' jokes, may be directing too much money and attention to big, showy projects rather than the little studios and open stages, the cultural petri dishes where real art is born? Does it matter that the city's efforts are driven less by aesthetic passion than by hunger for money, prestige and power? Probably not: All this could be said of Lorenzo de Medici and his patronage of Leonardo and Michelangelo in 15th-century Florence.

And the city's image is shifting, across Canada and abroad. "What's going on in Toronto, that's the event of the century," says Pierre Théberge, director of Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada. He predicts that Toronto's cultural build will energize communities across Canada. "In Montreal, people are pointing to Toronto and saying, 'What are we doing?!?' " The image change is transatlantic. "Toronto is a lively global city, just like Milan," is the opinion of Fabio Terragni, CEO of the Milano Metropoli development agency, which is organizing an exhibition of Toronto architectural models at the Palazzo Reale (and an exchange exhibit of Milanese projects at Toronto's Design Exchange). Terragni sees Toronto as "a city of architecture, biotechology, media -- and many Italians."

This is balm to a Canadian city that has, post-SARS and post-9/11, seen its tourism revenues march down a steep stair. And such comments are a veritable steroid injection for the capital city of a province with a rusting manufacturing base, a city trying to rebrand itself with "creative renewal" so that entrepreneurial and innovative talent "will be attracted to living here," in the words of Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of the city's Medical and Related Sciences Centre. At MaRS, new-media designers work with biotechnologists to make images of, say, what drugs do to the body. "Innovation is broader than science and technology. It's about creativity in the broadest context."

The trouble is, a mob of other cities is also building ambitious cultural projects to chase the same high-spending tourists and high-tech talent. Since Frank Gehry's 1997 Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in Spain came to symbolize the power of cultural icons to revitalize urban economies, U.S. museums have invested more than $5-billion to build or expand; Boston's Museum of Fine Arts remake will cost roughly twice as much (about $500-million) as any single Toronto project. In Europe, Vienna has redeveloped an inner-city neighbourhood, the MuseumsQuartier; Valencia, Spain, is building a district called the City of Arts and Sciences.

"Will visitors from the United Kingdom come to Toronto over Spain? Unlikely," says Jon Ladd, CEO of the British Urban Regeneration Association. "Where I think Toronto will be okay is, you have a critical mass of attractions, venues, activities, iconic buildings, a city image. Constructing these buildings must not be a one-off. Culture must be part of the city's fabric. Otherwise, you'll have white elephants on your hands."

U.S. economist and urban philosopher Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, concurs: "If you're up against New York and London, you've got to play in the big leagues. It makes sense to invest in institutions with cachet, architecture with panache. The mistake would be to put big institutions before actual artists. The advantage Toronto has is that it's open -- to people from all over the world -- and it's affordable."

It was to rebrand Toronto in this way -- and not because of embarrassment over warren-like, vermin-infested facilities at the old National Ballet School, or clanking rads and water dripping down the walls of the Royal Conservatory of Music, or the shameful waste of museum and art collections stored away for want of exhibition space, or the public's frustration with pitiful acoustics and sightlines -- that one unlikely man laid the foundation for Toronto's new direction.

Former Ontario Conservative premier Mike Harris, is, by his own admission, "not an opera fan. And I confess to going to more hockey than ballet." Yet, despite the Harris record for cuts to the National Ballet School and the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto's cultural construction projects are sometimes called "the houses that Mike built."

Sitting in his office at the Toronto law firm Goodmans, where he's a rainmaking senior business adviser, a genial Harris suggests that he was in part motivated by what might be termed a minor identity crisis. "When I went abroad as premier of Ontario, people didn't know Ontario. They knew Toronto," he marvels. "It was apparent to me that Toronto had to be a world-class city."

Far from being "the ogre from North Bay," says David Lindsay, Harris's former principal secretary, the premier early on backed the idea that culture could play a catalytic role in Toronto's economy. Lindsay recalls a day in August, 1995, when philanthropist Joey Tanenbaum turned up in the premier's office bearing documents showing downtown land then occupied by a provincial court building. Tanenbaum said this was just the place for a new ballet-opera house. "I was there," Lindsay says. "Harris got it."

Warning Tanenbaum that he could not hand over $30-million worth of land even as he was cutting welfare, Harris had Lindsay craft a deal that would transfer the land to the Canadian Opera Company for $4-million in cash, plus a $12-million vendor take-back mortgage (the deal was in effect sealed with a wink, as no one expected the COC to pay off the mortgage in a hurry).

But Harris's support was to prove complex. Growing up in North Bay, he'd seen his father's ski-hill business trying to compete with a nearby hill operator who had a government grant. Over time, Harris would play two roles in this story: He would champion iconic projects such as the refurbished Art Gallery of Ontario -- but he'd reveal a deep ambivalence about grants, on principle.

Over the next few years, rich, powerful men -- from former lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman (a long-time champion of a ballet-opera house) to billionaire Ken Thomson (then seeking a home for his Canadian and European art collections) -- assured Harris that however the new venues were paid for, a critical mass of cultural attractions was good for everyone. By 1998, Thomson was championing both an art-gallery expansion and a plan to remake Roy Thomson Hall, which suffered not only from chilly acoustics, but also poor flows of human traffic and air currents that blew away musicians' music.

Harris was listening. "Within the Toronto community, there was the will and the wherewithal," he says. "We just had to get off the little projects and into the keystone projects." The collapse in 1998 of Garth Drabinsky's Livent Inc., North America's biggest theatre producer in the 1990s, and the darkening of Toronto theatre houses that had lured U.S. tourists across the border, made that need more urgent. In 1999, the Harris government launched the SuperBuild Growth Fund, with Lindsay as CEO, to leverage public-private partnerships for the rebuilding of infrastructure. SuperBuild would set aside about $300-million for "tourism attractions."

At last a city began to stir. Charles Cutts, CEO at Roy Thomson Hall, began to order the wood and steel that would change the sound of his building. In 2000, the National Ballet School bought downtown land for an expanded school. The Royal Ontario Museum hired a new director, former Globe and Mail editor-in-chief William Thorsell, luring him with the promise of presiding over a radical architectural redesign.

Planning a five-storey addition and a new concert hall, Royal Conservatory director Peter Simon launched what he calls "personal commando raids" to win provincial and federal support (it helped that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's wife Aline, a conservatory piano student, is a fan of the RCM's international Learning Through the Arts program). "There were rumours about a SuperBuild," says Simon. "Suddenly, it was a case of sharpen your pencils, get your board ready, focus your program."

But 2000 was also the year six people died and 1,000 fell ill from tainted water in the Southwestern Ontario town of Walkerton. No politician would announce a new museum while public health was in jeopardy. Months passed. Then, in the fall of 2000, anticipating a spring election, Ottawa pushed matters forward by announcing its own national infrastructure program. Soon David Collenette, then regional minister for the Greater Toronto Area, was brandishing federal offers of funding.

For the Ontario Tories, this was a political trap. While they were trying to clean up tainted water, "The feds kept playing a game," says Lindsay. "They'd say, 'We said yes to your project, it's the province that's holding you up!' " As the other applicants waited anxiously, Roy Thomson Hall's SuperBuild bid was approved in 2001 and work began. But early in 2002, civil servants at Queen's Park and in Ottawa were still reviewing $1-billion worth of other applications. The trouble was, that was far more than Ontario could afford to approve. "With all due respect to the feds, they said yes to everything, knowing that there was only $300-million [available] from us," says Harris. "So they set us up to be the bad guys."

Certainly Harris, sire of SuperBuild, was being called a bad guy. Robert Sirman, administrative director of the National Ballet School, was outraged to learn that his school failed to meet SuperBuild's definition of "tourism attraction." On March 6, 2002, one of the country's greatest dancers fired off an open letter to the Prime Minister begging for support for the school. "It was just a strategy Bob Sirman and I concocted in a moment of desperation," says Karen Kain. For Collenette up in Ottawa, the well-publicized letter was crucial: "It generated a lot of publicity. It helped me stare down the province."

The opera-house project had also run aground. The problem was Harris's concern that the Canadian Opera Company was getting too sweet a deal (what was now $36-million worth of land, in exchange for $4-million and an easygoing mortgage). The COC was told it would have to give Ontario back $11-million in cash. When Collenette called Harris to sort things out, "He didn't mince words. He said, 'David, we're gonna fund the AGO and the ROM, they're provincial. The opera house is a federal project, a Liberal project. That's the way it's gonna be.' " And the ballet school was still out of the running.

When Collenette reported all this to his furious Toronto caucus, he says they agreed that the feds should threaten to pull out unless Ontario capitulated. That night, Collenette called museum and gallery directors at home to assure them that the withdrawal was a bluff. He also called Thomson. "I was nervous about that. Here was a guy who had put in millions, millions. . . . I said, 'Ken, I've got bad news. As regional minister I am walking away from the deal because Mike Harris says the province will just fund certain things and the deal doesn't include the ballet school.' Ken said, 'David, I trust you.' He understood this was a strategy."

Throughout the spring of 2002, the media buzzed with reports that the infrastructure deals were coming undone. As Ontario politicians accused Ottawa of making "more sudden moves than Baryshnikov," federal politicians gambled that all could be settled once Harris retired. On March 19, just before Harris departed the premier's office, he brandished his fist at Ottawa once more. Summoning the heads of the opera, the AGO and the ROM to his office, he promised that Ontario would fund their projects -- and then delivered the news to journalists waiting outside the door. Just hours after this unilateral announcement, Collenette countered by matching federal funds for four of the six projects -- the National Ballet School, the Royal Conservatory, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art and the opera house, now known as the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts -- excluding the AGO and the ROM. The brinksmanship subsided only after Ernie Eves, who replaced Harris as Ontario premier, appointed a new culture minister, David Tsubouchi.

Cousin of Canada's current culture minister, Bev Oda, the bearded Tsubouchi has the build of a wrestler. In fact, he's a published poet and something of a diplomat. "We had two significant roadblocks with the feds: the opera house and the ballet school," he says, beaming sweet reason across the desk of his downtown law office. He was never bothered that Ontario's real-estate contribution to the opera house was more valuable than Ottawa's $25-million in funding. Demanding cash back from the COC made no sense: Who would give money to the building if the donor knew the funds would return to Queen's Park? "I convinced my colleagues to treat the two amounts as equal," he shrugs. They canned the mortgage scheme.

"The second big hang-up was that the Ballet School didn't fit into our definition of cultural tourism," says Tsubouchi. "So I said, 'Who defined cultural tourism?' My colleagues said 'We did.' So I said, 'Let's redefine it.' "

In April, Tsubouchi went to the Stratford Festival to attend a gala performance. In the VIP box next to him sat Collenette. At intermission, the two men began to negotiate. The play, incidentally, was All's Well That Ends Well.

On May 31, 2002, Alexandra Montgomery, director of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (its $20-million renovation makes it the smallest of the projects) was on a museum-sponsored trip to Rome. "When we got to our hotel, the phone was ringing and ringing," she recalls. On answering it, she learned that over in Toronto, at Roy Thomson Hall (where the $24-million enhancement project was almost complete) Jean Chrétien and Ernie Eves had just announced that public money would flow to six Toronto projects. Montgomery's internationally admired facility (40 per cent of its visitors come from abroad) could expand and upgrade its exhibition space. Across Toronto, cranes could swing, earth-movers chug into action and fundraising professionals stalk arts patrons for hundreds of millions in donations to bring those projects to completion.

As Montgomery listened, there was a commotion in the street. By chance, the Pope was paying his traditional annual visit to Santa Maria Maggiore, a nearby Roman basilica. "What an extraordinary evening," she says. "Crowds of people, and the Pope! We had the phone call and then this . . . visitation. We felt blessed."

The story is far from over. Prime Minister Steven Harper's government may not come through with a final $49-million in completion funds in the forthcoming federal budget. The Royal Conservatory, the ROM and the AGO are still half-raw construction sites, and those who visit them do so under hard hats.

"On a sunny day," says Michael Mahoney, the AGO's senior project manager of construction, "this will be incredible, a cascade of natural light." He gestures to a rubble-filled courtyard that looks more like Baghdad than Toronto. "Over there, a gallery will house Ken Thomson's model ship collection." He steps across a trough of gravel and rusty cable. "For us, these projects are important for the country. It's been a struggle, but exciting."

But ahead, there's only more struggle. Tourists are fickle. Each night, Toronto impresarios already face 250,000 non-cinema seats (from sports arenas to small theatres). The new concert-hall projects -- not only the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and the conservatory's Michael and Sonja Koerner Concert Hall, but also new spaces at the Young Centre in the Distillery District, at York University and even in Brampton, Ont. -- will add thousands more. Who will fill them? Who will buy tickets to the new museums and art galleries?

Icons can lose their drawing power. The "Bilbao effect" is fading in Bilbao itself as attendance at Gehry's Guggenheim is starting to decline. And besides, the Spanish city's renaissance was never based on one museum alone, but was born amid massive investment in airports and subways designed by international architects -- "something Toronto might learn from," says Graeme Evans, director of the Cities Institute at London Metropolitan University.

And as for Toronto's other great ambition, to lure and keep innovative talent: "Much now rests on a strategy that can incorporate high-arts facilities with artist-led and creative industries and community-based development," notes Evans. He thinks the city's real hopes lie with projects such as MaRS, the arts, tech and biomedical complex -- and with efforts such as those of Artscape, a non-profit planning and consulting firm that assembles studio and high-tech startup space and affordable housing in heritage sites such as Toronto's Liberty Village.

Artscape's CEO Tim Jones works in a rehabilitated warehouse in Liberty Village, a Victorian streetscape now home to TV companies and recording studios. "The iconic projects create buzz," says Jones. "But it's a huge mistake to think that a cultural renaissance is built on just big projects. The key is how we continue the momentum."

And how does that work? Looking across at the ROM construction site from the Park Hyatt roof bar, Ted Ollmann tries to recall the last time he actually visited the Royal Ontario Museum. It was probably 30 years ago, he guesses. A King Tut exhibit. "What really got me was I was looking at a mummy and the holes in the ear lobes, for the earrings, were so big. That blew me away."

Interestingly, King Tut was at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1976, not at the ROM. Ollmann shrugs. The building is irrelevant. What he recalls is the content, the human dimension, those ear lobes. And if the people at the helm of Toronto's renaissance don't have ears for that simple message -- it's not about buildings, it's about human content -- then all this effort may yet have been in vain.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
MG Vassanji, two-time Giller Prize-winning novelist


If you had five minutes with Stephen Harper, what would you say to him about the

importance of culture to cities? THE ANSWER

"Much depends on the self image of the city. If a city wants to be considered in the same breath as other major cities in the world, then obviously it needs the same kinds of institutions that other cities have. Places like L.A. and New York spend hundreds of millions of dollars on major buildings. This country really has nothing. It's long overdue, except I'm not sure what they're doing is the right thing, whether it's grand enough or artistic enough."

Ken Finkleman, veteran TV creator (The Newsroom, At The Hotel)


Critics say that in order to build a culture, a city must bridge the gulf between its major cultural institutions and the independent art scene. Can that happen here?


"The big institutions operate best as showcases for art that has become culturally accepted by the moneyed class. That's opera. And that's the art that ends up in the ROM and at the AGO. You can never institutionalize the avant-garde. You can never ever institutionalize originality. It's really the ability and the eye of the [museum directors and curators] who can bring it to people's attention."

Deepa Mehta, filmmaker


Toronto's new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts will be used for opera and ballet performances. Smaller ensemble

concerts are also planned, and the space will be rented out for functions. What would you put there when it's dark?


"You have to think about a place that's associated with an art form. It's like the movies. You go to see a movie in a cinema hall. And the cinema hall becomes associated with seeing films. So when it's not showing films, what should it be doing? I think, perhaps nothing. And maybe that's not politically correct, but I think that's fine."

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
The boom that came out of nowhere
A year ago, no one would have predicted that a building frenzy would hit downtown. Now, industry watchers say 'there's a buzz out there'

It's been almost two decades since someone planned to add a major new office tower to Toronto's skyline. So long, in fact, that many had begun to believe it would never happen again. The risks were too big, they said, the demand too weak and the costs far too high to make it worthwhile.

You don't hear that talk any more.

Almost overnight, it seems, Toronto has found itself with a small-scale building boom on its hands and this time it's offices, not condo towers, that are being planned. In the next three years, at least two, and likely three, major towers will be constructed. The 43-storey RBC Centre will rise up beside a new Ritz-Carlton Hotel south of Roy Thomson Hall. Work on a revised version of the long dormant Bay-Adelaide Centre is expected to begin this summer and plans are in the works for a new tower south of the tracks near the Air Canada Centre.

"I'm amazed at the change of thinking in just one year," says Paul Morse, senior vice-president of leasing for Cushman & Wakefield LePage. "For the first time in 20 years the office market is contributing to the growth of this city."

The new commitment to downtown office space, which comes after years of white-collar job migration to Markham and Mississauga, is good news for Toronto, industry watchers say.

"These are people who are placing a big-money bet on downtown Toronto," says William Strange, a professor of real estate and urban economics at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"It's their job to place that bet intelligently."

The idea that downtowns are doomed because the Internet allows employees to do their work anywhere is proving not to be the case, he says.

"Downtowns are all about people being close to each other so that they can be more prosperous. The finance industry is not in Toronto as an act of charity. It is here because of the labour force, because of their proximity to other people they need to work with."

Indeed, being close to clients was the main reason Royal Bank of Canada settled on a downtown location for the 2,500 workers who will move into the newly named RBC Centre when it is completed in 2009. Chitwant Kohli, the bank's head of real estate, says about half of these workers are part of a joint venture business called RBC Dexia Investor Services, which serves pension and mutual funds. Royal Bank has a major office complex west of the city, but a suburban location was not appropriate for this unit, he says.

Mr. Kohli says the bank's move to a new building represents mostly a transfer of existing jobs, rather than the creation of new ones. The bank is moving staff from the Toronto-Dominion Centre to the new site, both of which are owned by Cadillac Fairview Corp., the real estate arm of the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. But he say the new facility is attractive because it offers room for expansion, especially for Dexia.

"We have plans to grow that business. This gives us the flexibility to address future needs," he says.

Major real estate decisions, Mr. Kohli says, take years to implement and require companies to make calculated bets about the future. "You have to gaze into a crystal ball and see what the business will be like in 15 years."

The move is a bet by the bank on that future, he says, but it is a relatively small bet, since its 15-year lease in the new building accounts for only 10 per cent of its office space in the Toronto area.

If the handful of new office projects are going to be viable, clearly they must do more than shuffle workers from existing buildings to new towers.

Developers say they are taking their cue from existing tenants who want modern space, filled with the latest technology and the cost savings this can provide. Part of the thinking behind Cadillac Fairview's decision to build was the need to keep existing tenants from moving to the new buildings of rivals.

Professional firms -- particularly lawyers, accountants and financial service professionals -- are also showing new commitment to downtown by hiring more employees and leasing more space. Vacancy rates in the downtown core shrank to 6.8 per cent at the end of March from 8.9 per cent at the same time last year.

Leasing activity is now soaring, with the market moving quickly to fill empty space. In the last six months, demand has increased 150 per cent from the levels seen in the previous three months, says Stuart Barron, head of research at Cushman & Wakefield LePage.

"There is a buzz out there," he says.

All that is pushing up rents and making new construction a realistic option.

"Rates in existing buildings are at the level that there is no longer sticker shock when tenants look at new buildings," says John O'Toole, an executive vice-president with CB Richard Ellis in Toronto.

Amid all the activity, there even are signs that a few companies are ready to bring office jobs back downtown, consolidating their operations in the core, rather than in a suburb. Telus Corp. is in talks for a new downtown Toronto location and word is the new office will involve just such a move.

Mr. Barron says unless there is a recession in the next two years, the Toronto market should have no trouble absorbing the 3 million square feet of new space that will come to the market when all three towers are built. Together, they will only increase downtown office space by about 5 per cent.

Still, Prof. Strange at the University of Toronto cautions that the city can't afford to take development for granted and assume that the future of the downtown is assured. High taxes or other barriers, he says, could easily turn the trend.

"It would be terrible if the lesson we learn from all this is we don't have to pay attention to this stuff," he says.

"The fortunes of cities can change. We can't take them for granted.

"Fifty years ago Detroit was a great city. Now it's desolate."

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Bringing in the masses: What's on after the ribbon-cutting
Special to The Globe and Mail
If you superbuild it, will they come? The Toronto arts district may be a field of dreams these days, but bold new spaces and state-of-the-art acoustics won't keep turnstiles perpetually spinning.

Most of the city's "culture centres in transition" are taking a two-stage approach, offering ambitious opening events or blockbuster shows to lure sidewalk gawkers inside and developing programs to turn local first-time visitors into regulars.

In the early days, the emphasis is on the talent in our own backyard -- or, in the case of museums, the treasures from the back shelves.

The first performance in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is a gala fundraising dinner concert (June 14) featuring the Canadian Opera Company orchestra, chorus and stars. The inaugural season begins in September with the COC's production of opera's colossus, Wagner's Ring cycle, while the National Ballet's 06/07 season at the Four Seasons Centre begins in November with Sleeping Beauty.

As part of a new initiative, the Centre's Aerial Amphitheatre will host a series of 90 free concerts (Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, the first Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m.), beginning in October. Director of programming Nina Draganic promises "everything from electronic music, to tin-whistle orchestras, Ghanaian drumming, jazz and exciting collaborations."

The Gardiner Museum reopens its expanded gallery space June 23, christening its new special exhibition hall with a commissioned solo show of sculpture and drawings by the renowned Quebec ceramic artist Jean-Pierre Larocque (June 23 to Oct. 9).

Months before new permanent galleries in the Michael A. Lee-Chin Crystal are installed with old favourites, new acquisitions and whole collections never before displayed, the Royal Ontario Museum opens the Crystal's blockbuster space, the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, with Italian Arts and Design: The 20th Century (Oct. 26 to Jan. 7, 2007).

Introducing the public to new ways of seeing and to its new collections, in particular Kenneth Thomson's gift of Canadian works and European art, is the focus of the Art Gallery of

Ontario as it moves towards the 2008 opening of its expanded spaces. "Who we are and what we do is changing," says reinstallation director Linda Milrod. As an example, the AGO's photography collection has grown from 2,000 to 37,000 works over the past five years.

For the Royal Conservatory of

Music, the three new halls in the Telus Centre will be alive with more than just classical music, reflecting the new areas of teaching (jazz, world music, DJ skills and pop-song crafting) with an international artist series scheduled to kick off in 2008.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·

These days, in the city of Toronto, architecture is understood as a major transformer. At times, large-scale urban design has taken on a spectacular dimension, delivered as a jaw-dropping provocation, an object to behold, the latest, stupefying commodity. But public architecture also resides more quietly, enduringly, within the deep folds of a city's fabric, in that zone of the glorious in-between. It is found in life-sustaining libraries and in community centres that invite openness and tolerance and a just society. It is there within exquisitely crafted houses set like minimal slivers amid rows of Victorian housing. These are the places of profound city building, where trophy architecture rarely goes but where much of the exalted state of any urban renaissance lies. For the civic art of architecture in Toronto, we owe much to our own talented architects and even the next generation of designers.

"I consider myself a beneficiary of [Toronto's] cultural commitment to architecture," says Donald Chong, a University of Toronto architecture graduate, who recently launched Donald Chong Studio. To Chong, the recent renaissance in Toronto has provided a necessary balance between private developments and cultural building. "It makes me believe that architecture is still a real route in making cities, and that it's not just about design features used by speculative developments."

The culture of architecture matters in Toronto: Patrons of the arts and members of academia have presented themselves to the cause in droves.

There is something particular to Toronto's culture of architecture, including, as it does, students who are being mentored at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design and hired into practices such as Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, Shim-Sutcliffe Architects and Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, to name but three. "I've found that in other cities such as Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, there isn't the camaraderie or even the legacy that you find in Toronto," notes Chong. "More and more, I've realized Toronto is a place of nurturing and mentorship."

There is that, and there is also this: the city's reinvention. Although tempting to do so, Torontonians needn't flatter themselves by imagining the world has engaged in endless chatter about their city's so-called cultural renaissance. Many within global circles of architecture know that something of major proportions is emerging here. But the true impact of the work has created barely a ripple.

A measure, then, of what is about to be unveiled to the world: Does Toronto's collective body of new architecture break new ground for technical and aesthetic innovation? No. Not when compared to Frank Gehry's unparalleled work of audacity delivered for the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (1997), or his ability to sculpt a conference room in the shape of a horse's head for Berlin's DG Bank (2001). Not when compared to British wünder-architect Norman Foster's glass dome, which redefined the German parliament in Berlin's Reichstag, a polemic intervention entirely powered by renewable sources of energy.

Even the star architects themselves are reluctant to sing the praises of their Toronto work -- once they step outside the city, that is. The Art Gallery of Ontario's $254-million redevelopment has been conspicuously absent in recent books on Frank Gehry. And Daniel Libeskind failed to mention his $244-million makeover of the Royal Ontario Museum during a talk last year in Muenster, Germany.

We live in an era of excess. So, it's hardly surprising that six cultural institutions are being reinvented in Toronto at the present time. The city has been blessed by a megawatt effort, contained within a few dozen city blocks. Combined with major building at the University of Toronto by talented local architects and foreign stars, there's an enviable dose of riches and brainpower operating in the downtown core.

Forty years ago, architectural monuments, here and elsewhere, arrived one at a time. In 1956, Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips, an early supporter of the new City Hall, launched an international design competition that was ultimately won by Finnish architect Viljo Revell; French president Georges Pompidou spearheaded the international competition and construction of one of the world's most provocative cultural works, Beaubourg, or the Pompidou Centre (1978), by the architects Renzo Piano of Italy and Richard Rogers of England.

At the dawn of the 21st century, there is a smorgasbord of styles to choose from in Toronto. What unites the new builds is an interest in body architecture: See how the body is glorified in the double-height dance studios at Canada's National Ballet School. Watch it become the object of desire on the glass stairs behind the glass wall at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For the Art Gallery of Ontario, on the second-floor viewing gallery lined with Douglas fir, Frank Gehry has given the body a magnificent space to strut through and be noticed in from Dundas Street. And the body can expect to be exposed, possibly even caressed, by the catwalks and sharply angled walls within the new public spaces at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Though unfair to contrast the grands projets of another French president, François Mitterrand, by which Paris was further transformed in the eighties and nineties, to the cultural build-up of Toronto, there is at least one apt comparison to make between Carlos Ott, architect of Paris's new opera house, and Toronto architect Jack Diamond, creator of Toronto's new home for opera, the Four Seasons Centre. Like Ott, Diamond resents the star system of architects. Ott, like Diamond, set out to create a building and not a monument -- an opera for the people.

There are differences between the Paris and Toronto opera houses: the Opéra de la Bastille cost $400-million (U.S.) when it finally opened in 1990, and its main hall seats 2,700. In Toronto, the Four Seasons Centre will cost an estimated $181-million and provide a relatively intimate auditorium of 2,000 seats. Neither is intended as a place of aesthetic transport. Ott's facility is a machined apparatus that gives away nothing, on the outside, of the theatricality of opera. A similar strategy has been used by Diamond who, together with Diamond + Schmitt Architects, has designed the project as a brick building that could be confused from three of its sides as a vast loft or even a shopping mall: The facility's one exhilarating conceit is a monumental glass curtain wall that rises up from its University Avenue sidewalk.

The test of extravagance with any such space is whether it inspires the turning of a pirouette. Best forget it here -- the goal at the Four Seasons Centre is to privilege the serious business inside the hall, providing exceptional acoustics and clear sightlines. It's a no-nonsense game.

Had Mitterand's French socialist government been responsible for marketing the cultural renaissance of Toronto, the SuperBuild fund would have been launched as the compelling story of building a new society. The French president spun his grands projets as an initiative befitting a government of builders, a concept that was debated every day during the 1980s in most of the daily French newspapers. And has since gone down in history. Here, by contrast, although the SuperBuild initiative has helped finance hundreds of projects across Ontario and embraced a variety of programs, little importance has been attached to the government's role in fostering excellence in architecture -- and even less attention has been given to the province's vision for creating sophisticated, reinvented cities.

Architecture was something this city used to fear. Now, through regular exposure, the public has become a more discriminating and demanding client.

Jack Lang, French minister of culture under President Mitterrand, once declared that architecture is not an expression of a society but an expression of the powers that direct it. Mitterrand himself believed that the government required time to accomplish its cultural project: One cannot construct anything strong and new according to the rhythm imposed by developers and speculators.

A civilization is judged by its architecture. Of this, I have no doubt.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Two huge inflatable male figures by artist Max Streicher hover over the dance floor at Muzik, a newly renovated party palace on Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition grounds. Hey, like oversized sex dolls!

But wait -- maybe the balloon-men installation is ironic. Below, moves a thirty- and forty-something BlackBerry-and-cleavage crowd. The men strut inflated egos: There's media-made pretty boy Ben Mulroney. And the women? Pillowy, where it counts.

Think what you want. Contemporary art is all about interpretation, getting the viewer stimulated, engaged. Which is exactly the point of this event, the Art Gallery of Ontario's second annual Massive party (ticket price: $125 per person). It's an "audience builder," according to AGO development staff -- and an integral part of the seduction of potential and future donors.

The Search for Untapped Money could be the title of the behind-the-scenes drama now going on in Toronto, as cultural institutions work to complete capital campaigns for building projects that have been underway since 2002, when the federal and provincial governments awarded $230-million a set of high-profile projects and kicked off the race for Toronto's private money. Even with the announcement in March of the provincial government's phase-two funding of $49-million over the next three years and an anticipated top-up from the federal government still to come, these institutions need to access their final millions from private pocketbooks.

The results, so far, have been fascinating from a sociological point of view. The outreach for additional, first-time donors has caused a new Canadian establishment to emerge. This new age of philanthropism confirms what has long been known in theory: that Canadian society, diverse in age and ethnicity, is changing.

Families and individuals already known for their philanthropy (think Eaton, Tanenbaum, Weston, Jackman, Ivey) -- the so-called "usual suspects" -- have come forward and exceeded expectations, partly because participation has became a status symbol. "There's a subtle twinge one gets when you see your peers make very large donations," observes Maxine Granovsky Gluskin, a director of the AGO, who has given over $3-million with her husband, money manager Ira Gluskin. "You think, hmm, I want to be part of that club."

Still, it's that big-gift group that is suffering from donor fatigue. "They're tapped out," says one expert.

"The institutions that have diversified their donor bases most are in the best shape now and will be in the future," notes Bonnie Hillman, managing director of Arts & Communications, a public-relations and consulting firm that has worked closely with some Toronto arts institutions on fundraising efforts.

Getting a younger set, the nineties money crowd, to cough up the dough is not easy. As one long-time fundraiser puts it, "Cultural institutions aren't on their radar. They want cars, houses, big jewellery. Private school for their children. If they're supporting art, they're putting it on their walls."

The Me Generation is unphilanthropic relative to their wealth, according to Hillman, who adds that after the capital campaigns are over there is still the need to build endowments to ensure long-term viability for programming. "Feasibility studies show this generation rejects their parents' value system. They want to do things their own way, and that often means not supporting the institutions their parents [supported]."

Many of the major cultural institutions are courting this Prada-clad crowd. At the ROM, there's the Young Patrons' Circle, with 210 members, whose first annual fundraising party, PROM Unchaperoned, happens April 22.

The AGO's New Founders initiative is a cleverly named program that immediately tells potential patrons they won't be sitting in a room with their mothers' friends. At the Massive party, key organizers of the event (as well as the waiters) wore wigs of fuzzy pink clown hair -- this ain't the blue-rinse set, get it? The New Founders program sought to bring in 100 new philanthropists under the age of 50, at a minimum donation of $50,000 per philanthropist. The carrot? Small dinner parties and exclusive tours of exhibitions before they open to the public. It has been a success: The AGO has 120 New Founders so far.

Ken Zuckerman, a 43-year-old commercial and residential real-estate developer who cultivates an edgy image with his long, messy hair, beard stubble, untucked shirttails and blue-tinged glasses, is a member of the AGO's new establishment. At the Massive party, he gamely participated in Pearl Van Geest's Kiss Paintings. He applied lipstick and added his kiss mark to a white canvas. Nothing stuffy about that. "I want to make a difference," he says to explain his philanthropy while wiping off his poorly applied lipstick. "But I'm not just giving money. I'm getting involved. I want to comment on what the AGO is doing."

That sentiment, the desire for interaction, for comment, is part of what the AGO has addressed in its efforts to reach out to the wider community. "We haven't been a leader in opening ourselves to other points of view and interpretation," concedes AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum. That will change with programming, he says. (Toward the goal of $254-million for its Frank Gehry-designed transformation, the AGO has so far managed to raise $183-million.)

Each institution among the Gang of Seven -- the AGO, the Royal Ontario Museum, Roy Thomson Hall, the Canadian Opera Company, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the Royal Conservatory of Music and the National Ballet School -- has discovered the same truth: What an institution offers determines who gives.

Across town, on the same evening as the AGO's Massive party, another celebration was taking place at the Royal Ontario Museum -- but there, the mood and the crowd were markedly different. The reception in the historic rotunda hall was filled with members of the city's Asian community, who had come to witness the official opening of the museum's Chinese galleries.

A sedate affair of scheduled speakers, along with a taste of Chinese entertainment, dancers and later, a musician playing an er-hu, an ancient Chinese instrument, it had the feel of a diplomatic cross-cultural exchange. Which, shrewdly, it was.

The ROM, more than any other cultural institution in the city, has reached into ethnic communities to help bring the museum within $42.5-million of its $244-million goal. Why? Because it is in the business of building cultural bridges. Fundraisers understood that diversity was part of the ROM mandate and that inclusion and participation in the new -- i.e. not exclusively WASP -- Canadian society was an incentive to immigrant groups.

"We are a universal museum," explains David Palmer, the president and executive director of the ROM's board of governors, the body that oversees fundraising initiatives. "We have the unique advantage of reaching out to communities and saying, 'There's a part of you inside these walls.' " The announcement, in 2003, of a $30-million donation from Chinese-Jamaican businessman Michael Lee-Chin, founder of AIC mutual funds, signalled that a new multicultural establishment was making its mark on the city.

Lee-Chin, whose name will adorn the Daniel Libeskind-designed Crystal, is a part of the ROM's New Century Founders, a group formed to recognize philanthropists who have made donations of $5-million or more.

One of the seven New Century Founders is Shreyas Ajmera, owner of Seenergy Foods, who was born in India and has lived in Canada for 30 years. Until now, he has only given money to community and religious groups -- including a Sikh temple. He was invited to become a ROM governor in 2004 and recently gave the museum $5-million. "It's the first time I've disclosed my name," he says.

The first step for the ROM in finding the city's quiet or hidden money involved the creation of a special ROM Renaissance volunteer team, an ethnically diverse war room of fundraisers, including 53 cabinet members and 14 executive members, headed up by Hilary Weston. The campaign strategy was to have members of the group identify potential donors in their respective communities.

Enter Rita Tsang, a businesswoman who had come to Toronto from Hong Kong in the seventies to be a student at the University of Toronto. After a couple of meetings, the president and CEO of Tour East Holidays signed on as a cabinet member and agreed to head up the Chinese initiative, which so far has raised in excess of $2-million among the local community.

"The fact that [the cabinet] was chaired by Hilary Weston was a big draw," Tsang says. "She is an icon. And to be working with a cabinet of such high calibre [was also an incentive]. Society is changing, and we should be part of that dynamic." Asked if her community may have felt excluded in the past, or intimidated, she replies that "it depends on the individual." That the initiative came from the ROM makes it easier for the Chinese to participate. "It means the [Chinese] community itself is not having to break the ice," Tsang explains.

Meanwhile, at the other institutions, heads of fundraising campaigns look for their own sources of donors who believe in what they are doing. As one development officer succinctly put it, "You can't make people give unless they want to."

At the Canadian Opera Company, where the capital campaign is $14-million short of its $181-million goal for the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Wendy McDowall, head of COC fundraising efforts, says that their "new" philanthropists came from an existing database of annual subscribers and modest supporters. "They weren't the usual suspects, but rather people who stretched to make six-figure donations." Part of the challenge for the COC is that many people see opera as an acquired taste. "It's people who have educated themselves about the art form that have surfaced. They want to make this happen."

The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art has just over $3-million to go, to reach its goal for an ongoing $20-million renovation project. The campaign has been "dogged in its approach," says Alexandra Montgomery, the Gardiner's fundraising executive director of fundraising. Up until 1996, the Gardiner was managed by the ROM. "We had never done a major gifts program." They hired an outside consultancy, Elizabeth Wilson and Associates, to discuss strategy. The result? Like the COC, they discovered that their "new" benefactors were people who had been involved with them in the past. All top three private gifts to the museum were anonymous, Montgomery adds. "That speaks to the nature of the institution. Ceramics is a private kind of passion."

Over at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Peter Simon, president, has found that education is the most effective card to play. A new breed of philanthropist grasps "that the human resource is Canada's biggest resource," he says, noting that RCM's Learning Through the Arts program is heavily involved with community schools across the country. Ian Ihnatowycz, a Ukranian-Canadian investment specialist in his early 50s, gave a first-ever donation of $5-million to the RCM. Ihnatowycz, who was once a student at the conservatory, has three children, Simon notes, and he understands the value of education.

Another important part of the RCM campaign was to target a corporate sponsor whose business vision dovetailed with RCM initiatives. That partner was Telus, which has given $10-million and has pledged to help the RCM find another $5-million through its business network. The RCM's fundraising efforts have paid off so successfully that the campaign committee has decided to complete what was going to be a two-stage project in one. "We were going to try to raise just $60-million," says Simon. "But we passed that mark a year ago." The RCM is now over $70-million toward a $95-million goal, he says.

But not all fundraising campaigns break the mould. For Canada's National Ballet School, Margaret McCain co-chairs, with her husband, Wallace, a campaign to raise $100-million. (To date, the committee has raised $89-million.) It has been challenging. "We don't have wealthy alumni and we don't have wealthy parents [of current students]," she says.

She doesn't believe she would have been able to do it without her husband's business contacts. "When all is said and done," she says, "it's still a man's world, and men give to men."

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·

Well-known Canadian blue bloods such as the Westons, Thomsons, Eatons et al. are still the major donors to the arts. Hilary and Galen Weston gave $10-million to the Royal Ontario Museum, and the family's W. Garfield Weston Foundation chipped in another $10-million. Billionaire Ken Thomson and his wife, Marilyn Thomson, have donated a staggering $70-million to the AGO.

Margaret and Wallace McCain are major benefactors to the Gardiner Museum, along with giving $5-million to the National Ballet School.

A $20-million donation by Four Seasons hotelier Isadore Sharp bought him naming rights to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The estate of Fraser Elliott, founding partner of the law firm Stikeman Elliott, gave another $10-million to the Canadian Opera Company.


Shan Chandrasekar donated $1-million to the Royal Conservatory of Music. From a family of broadcasters, filmmakers and music producers in India, Chandrasekar launched the first over-the-air South Asian programming on CITY-TV in 1975. In 1993, the McGill grad formed ATN - the Asian Television Network.

Michael Lee-Chin, a Jamaican immigrant who acquired the giant money management firm of AIC Ltd. in 1987, gave $30-million to the Royal Ontario Museum. The gift christened the Michael A. Lee-Chin Crystal, the Daniel Libeskind-designed addition.

Ian Ihnatowycz, president and CEO of Acuity Funds Ltd., and his optometrist wife, Dr. Marta Witer, donated $4-million to the capital campaign to rebuild the Royal Conservatory of Music, and another $1-million to finance a Piano Scholars Program.

Prem Watsa, head of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., is a large -- but undisclosed -- donor to the ROM. The businessman, who was born Hyderabad, India, moved to London, Ont., in 1972. In the late nineties, he was dubbed the "Warren Buffett of the North."

Indian-born, Woodbridge, Ont.-based vegetarian-foods entrepreneur Shreyas Ajmera, president of Seenergy Foods, recently donated $5-million to the ROM.

Entering the donor big leagues is a youthful group including Toronto real estate developer Ken Zuckerman, president of Zinc Construction and member of the AGO's New Founders. He gave at least $50,000 to the art gallery's building fund. Likewise, famed Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky also forked over $50,000 to the same cultural cause.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
People behind the cultural revival: a series
Richard Bradshaw, the Canadian Opera Company's director, reveals his long-range strategy for the group's new home -- and playing it safe is not in the cards, ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN reports as we begin our week-long series on the people behind Toronto's cultural renaissance

The Globe and Mail, Monday, April 10
He's not convinced the colour of the seat cushions matches the swatch he selected, and he still wonders about the intentions of his most fickle donor, the federal government. But with just 10 weeks to go until the first public concert at the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Richard Bradshaw has no fear of buyer's remorse.

After all, the essentials have turned out just as he insisted they should. He always said the Canadian Opera Company needed an auditorium of 2,000 seats with an orchestra pit large enough for 100 players, and that's what he's getting.

"On the essentials, I was pretty intransigent," said the silver-haired, English-born conductor, sprawled amiably in a chair in his Toronto office. The essentials also included top-quality acoustics and unimpeded sightlines.

Read the other installments in the series:

Matthew Teitelbaum: The Curator
Peter Simon and Robert Sirman: The Educators
Helen Gardiner: The Collector
William Thorsell: The Visionary
Not many years ago, there seemed to be many obstacles blocking Bradshaw's vision. There were doubts about whether the money could be raised, especially after the National Ballet of Canada decided not to participate as a partner. There were questions as to whether the COC could afford to play in a hall that is 1,400 seats smaller than the Hummingbird Centre.

There were also unpleasant memories of the last attempt to build a home for opera and ballet in Toronto, in the eighties, which failed when government support crumbled.

When Bradshaw took over the company in 1993, there were doubters. The former organist and itinerate conductor had come to the COC in 1989 as head of music, and was bumped up to the general director's job after Brian Dickie's abrupt departure. Bradshaw had never run a company of any size, and the timing was terrible: The COC had just taken a box-office beating with an ill-advised production of Carmen; it was losing subscribers; it had alienated some of its most generous supporters; and governments at all levels were getting stingy.

Bradshaw's early years as general director involved a lot of bailing on the financial side as the company patched its balance sheet with millions drawn down from its endowment fund. But he gradually righted the ship, and continued Dickie's attempts to revitalize the company by improving performance standards and hiring high-profile directors from film and theatre, including Robert Lepage and Atom Egoyan. He made the COC seem more adventurous, even while doing bulletproof fare such as La Traviata.

"I happen to believe that the only thing you can do in the arts that is irresponsible is not to take risks," the 61-year-old Bradshaw says. He means well-calculated risks, put into play with his trademark focus, energy and charm. Whatever hazard there was in aiming for a purpose-built hall has already been rewarded, he said, by the company's increased visibility and expanded donor base. The house has become the symbol of the COC's rising fortunes, and a lot of people want to associate themselves -- and their money -- with that success.

"You've got to say that this will work and we can raise more money because of it," he said. "That's what I've been saying, and thank God I've been proven right."

His vision for an opera house has remained largely unaltered, he said, since discussions began in the late nineties. The COC wanted a place where it could present itself in the best possible light and expand to an eight-opera season. "There has to be room for us to grow," he said. "That's why we built the house."

He admits that those words could sound a little alarming to the National Ballet, which will enter the hall as a tenant whose hold on performance dates may, in future, depend on the speed with which the COC grows. "I think it has been hard for the ballet to realize that they're a tenant," said Bradshaw. "I wish they had come in with us."

With the equivalent of $66-million in public money and a possible $10-million more in matching grants from the federal government (assuming the Harper cabinet honours a Liberal commitment), the COC has been careful to avoid the appearance of building a pleasure house for the rich. During a hard-hat tour recently, my guide stressed architect Jack Diamond's "democratic" front entrance: a sheet of curtain-wall glass that makes the building feel open to the street.

"A lot of people who were giving us money wanted deep red plush, and gilt," Bradshaw said. "That's not the opera house we're building."

He's pleased that the COC recently sold 27,500 tickets for Carmen (a nice reversal of fortune from the disastrous run of 1993), but would also like to be able to think small and take more risks. For that, he says, he'll need to see the new money promised to the Canada Council during the last Parliament, which would likely put $5-million more into the COC's hands each year.

"I want more people to come, and to expand our audience," he says, "but wouldn't it be wonderful to do more things that are very adventurous? Wouldn't it be wonderful not always to be thinking like a blockbuster organization?"

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
The Curator
The director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario says it was his father's struggle as an artist that made him curious about how 'values and judgments' are made in the art world, writes MICHAEL POSNER

It's not a prominent feature of his current résumé, but for about a year and a half in the early 1980s, Matthew Teitelbaum was a lowly researcher at Maclean's magazine. "I want to be clear," the director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario and overseer of its $254-million expansion and transformation project says with a laugh. "There's no falsification on my CV. I was a fact-checker. My office was next to Peter ****** and Barbara Amiel."

Just 24 years old at the time, Teitelbaum says he was interested in journalism, but not necessarily interested in being a journalist. "I think I was always interested in the communication of ideas. And I was between university and graduate school and this was a good place to rest."

All of this is relevant to Teitelbaum's subsequent career because he had to choose his path with more than a little care. That's because his father, the late Mashel Teitelbaum, was a painter himself. Not hugely successful, he was a man with strong opinions about the world of contemporary art and for three or four days actually picketed the very institution his son now runs, to protest its curatorial practices. Inevitably, he exercised a profound influence.

Thus, when Matthew finished his art-history degree, he briefly considered becoming an arts journalist. "But I didn't go very far. I saw it as being in line with arts criticism and I wasn't going to go there. Becoming a curator was being enough of the enemy. To be an art critic would have been like the devil incarnate."

That Teitelbaum ended up as an art curator and ultimately a gallery director owes something to his mother, Ethel, as well. A powerful force in the Toronto volunteer community, she also sat as a judge on the immigration appeal board. Her son is said to have inherited her political skill set, a combination of diplomat, negotiator, administrator and passionate believer in bringing art to as many people as possible.

As a young man, his father's lack of commercial success puzzled Teitelbaum. "Troubled is too strong a word, but I was always curious about how values and judgments are made in the art world, and that sort of takes me toward my mother's side, as the arbiter."

Fundamentally, he says, "my father didn't know what to make of institutions. And the AGO became the institution against which to rebel." Teitelbaum still has in his basement two placards painted by his father for his picketing campaign. To this day, the AGO has never purchased a Mashel Teitelbaum canvas; of course the irony is that, now that his son is in charge, it effectively can't.

Teitelbaum, now 50, says he shares some of his father's doubts about institutions.

"I'm skeptical of them. I want to push them. But he was critical. He was dismissive. He was angry. I'm not."

What would the late Mashel have made then of Matthew's emergence as one of the country's most important art figures? "I think he'd be deeply confused. He would have had to be. On the one hand, deeply proud. On the other, what is this?"

At any rate, Teitelbaum eventually left Maclean's, did a graduate degree at the Courtauld Institute in London, and then worked as an intern at the AGO. He's held curatorial posts at Museum London (in London, Ont., where he met his future wife, Susan Cohen), the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon (his father's hometown) and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where Susan was working.

Even before then, the couple had married and spent many thousands of dollars commuting. Recalls Teitelbaum: "I wanted the wedding invite to read: 'Air Canada and Bell Canada take no pleasure in announcing. . . .' Because we were helping them out big time." Susan is now deputy director of education at the Ontario Science Centre; the couple have two sons, Elijah, 12 and Max, 14.

One day in Boston, Teitelbaum received a call from Glenn Lowry, then director of the AGO. He was looking for a chief curator. Did Matthew know of anyone?

At first, he didn't realize Lowry was asking him if he were interested, "so I actually gave him a couple of names. Then he said, 'Why don't you come up for a chat.' " He took the job in 1993 and became director five years later.

When he assumed command, Teitelbaum knew he had an energized staff and an ambitious board. But the catalyst for the Frank Gehry-designed expansion was a conversation he held with Ken Thomson, during which the country's largest art collector said, 'I want my art to be there at the AGO.'

"When he said that, a whole lot of other things became possible," says Teitelbaum "Because think of what having that private collection here would mean. Think of how people would be able to experience art. So it's not only how to accommodate this physically, but how do we transform the institution."

At its current stage -- the building is set to open in 2008 -- Teitelbaum concedes that it's "hard to get away from the construction project." But he and others at the AGO are spending an increasing amount of time thinking about the program -- not the outer form, but the inner content.

"I haven't said this publicly before but I say it to staff: There are a lot of lousy museums in great buildings and for that matter a lot of great museums in pretty mediocre buildings.

"And if we aspire to be a great museum in a great building, we can't lose sight of the construction, but we have to really imagine and plan the presentations that will sustain us after the opening. The building will come alive in part by how we fill it."

Mashel Teitelbaum would likely second that motion.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
The Educators
They've held their top jobs for 15 years -- longer than most people expected, writes JAMES ADAMS. But Robert Sirman says his long tenure has steered the rebirth of the National Ballet School, just as Peter Simon has turned around the Royal Conservatory of Music

'If making art is hard, making an arts institution work may be harder still.' -- Jed Perl, art critic,

The New Republic

Fifteen years ago, both Peter Simon and Robert Sirman took on jobs that probably only enemies would have wished on them, so daunting were the prospects for success.

On paper, the jobs sounded prestigious, top-of-the-line -- in Simon's case, the presidency of the Royal Conservatory of Music, in Sirman's the administrative directorship of the National Ballet School of Canada, each based in the heart of the country's largest city.

But beneath the fancy-pants titles were organizations in deep trouble, organizations that, for all their aura of permanence and venerability and their crucial positioning at the intersection of Culture Avenue and Education Road, seemed unlikely to make it to the end of the 20th century, let alone into the wee hours of the 21st.

Now, of course, the Royal Conservatory and the National Ballet School seem the very models of forward-looking robustness. This is due in no small part to Simon and Sirman, each of whom has been carefully but steadily steering his institution through an ambitious, multimillion-dollar overhaul to its physical plant -- the conservatory under the rubric "Building National Dreams," the ballet school "Grand Jeté" -- to ensure Canada has Isabel Bayrakdarians and Rex Harringtons for generations to come. At the same time, by skillfully weaving new buildings around old, the overhauls are dramatically transforming Toronto's man-made topography.

It's been a miracle of hard work -- with, of course, serendipitous dollops of luck and good timing.

When a 45-year-old Sirman arrived at the ballet school after 10 years of administration at the Ontario Arts Council, "the organization was in financial crisis, running deficits of $1-million a year," he recalled recently. "It was desperate for what I call a corporate centre, someone to hold the reins. . . . What they needed was institutional vision, institutional enlightenment."

Artistically and curriculum-wise, the school, which had been founded in 1959, seemed fine, educating and training more than 100 full-time students from across Canada and 25 or 30 from around the globe. No less an authority than Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder and general director of the New York City Ballet, had deemed the NBS to be "the equal in essence and potential to the Kirov School in Leningrad and the Royal Ballet School in England. . . . [It] is like an oasis." But it was an oasis that was bailed out by the federal government with a one-time-only investment of $2.34-million.

Peter Simon faced similar circumstances upon his return to the conservatory where he'd been its director of academic studies for three years, starting in 1986. Prior to being picked from a field of five contenders for the RCM head job, he served briefly (just under two years) as president of the Manhattan School of Music.

Started in 1886 as the Toronto Conservatory of Music, the RCM was certainly the best-known private music school in the country and probably the stodgiest, with an estimated one in nine Canadians having received at least some musical training under its auspices. "But from a purely accounting view, it was bankrupt," Simon, 56, said in a recent interview. "We had greater liabilities than assets," and a debt of more than $2-million. "It needed a complete reanimation." Eighteen months after he strolled into his office at RCM Central in decrepit McMaster Hall, he was laying off more than 120 teachers and staff and closing seven suburban branches around Toronto.

Intriguingly, neither Sirman nor Simon planned to be arts administrators or tailored their post-secondary education to such an end. A Toronto native, Sirman studied sociology at the University of Toronto, while the Hungarian-born Simon enrolled in music lessons at the Royal Conservatory in 1959, three years after his family moved to Toronto. He later took piano studies at the Juilliard School in New York and London, and in 1983, earned a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Michigan. For the next couple of years, Simon split his time among performing, teaching at the University of Western Ontario, and serving as artistic director of Toronto's Preview Concerts.

In fact, it was this last job that prompted him to take his one and only course in arts administration, at York University in 1984. "I'd started this concert series and was trying to fill a 300-seat hall with no marketing budget. I knew nothing. I thought I could take a short-cut."

What Simon didn't lack were smarts, drive and dedication. "The reason we [wife Dianne Werner, children Nicole and Justin] bought our house where it is, is because I didn't want to be more than seven minutes away from work." Even now, it's not unusual for Simon to work for two or three hours each week night at his Moore Park Toronto home, often until 1 a.m. Not surprisingly, the RCM is now regarded very much as "Peter's place."

At the NBS, Sirman thinks his undergraduate and graduate degrees in sociology have figured "hugely" in his role at the school. His conversation is peppered with expressions like "reading the institution," "intentional transparency" and "heightening involvement" as well as references to urbanologist Jane Jacobs and her "notions of what constitute comfortable built forms and successful urban space."

"Whatever success I've had is tied, I believe, to a kind of pattern recognition, to seeing patterns within systems, as opposed to having specialized skills in financial management or human resources," he said. Coming to the school, in fact, meant he could "test out many, many years of theory." While Sirman had done policy and research at the Ontario Arts Council, he "hadn't really run any organization on the street, and here was this opportunity -- an organization that didn't know if it was going to survive, and me, who didn't know if I was full of hot air."

Amazingly, given the parlous state of their organizations, both Sirman and Simon opted to dream big, not small, virtually from the start of their jobs. In 1993 Sirman and the NBS's artistic director Mavis Staines struck a panel to look into both improving and expanding the school's physical plant -- a row of overcrowded, deteriorating Victorian buildings anchored by a former Quaker meeting house built in the 1850s. Eventually, it was determined that the school -- which at the time had almost 150 full-time students in Grades 6 through 12, including many living in residence -- needed a campus 2½ times larger than what it had. (In fact, when completed, it will have more than tripled its original square footage.)

Meanwhile, Simon was trying to reposition the conservatory as an autonomous, truly national organization with a thoroughly updated program after having functioned as a division of the University of Toronto since 1921. "I told people, 'We're going to do something important; we're going to do it all; we're going to do it big and we're going to change society.' " Getting McMaster Hall -- a former Baptist college erected in 1881 -- into both functioning and presentable shape was part of the vision. Explained Simon: "We had this extraordinary Victorian building that literally hadn't been changed since it was built. We'd been there since 1963 but we'd had no capital budget to speak of, and the structure needed $10-million in repairs, at least. We couldn't put the air-conditioning on in the summer because it would blow the circuits. I had water coming down the walls in my office. The fire marshal was coming to visit me fairly regularly."

There was, in short, "an inconsistency between the quality of our programs and the physical representation of our building. I said, 'It looks like we don't care very much. So let's go and change it.' What I didn't know," he said with a laugh, "was that it was going to take 15 years!"

Of course, there remain many rivers to cross before the physical plants of the NBS and RCM reach full fruition, not least because the former still has to raise $11-million, much of which will be spent on the school's new dormitories, while the latter's capital campaign is looking for another $21-million to clinch a spring, 2008, completion. But the successes Sirman and Simon have had, especially in the last four years, in leveraging $60-million in federal and provincial money to secure corporate and individual donations and generate increased board support and civic excitement have only intensified their belief that, "Yes, this can be done."

"There's a myth about careers in our field," noted Sirman. "It's the one that says you make your mark in three or four years and move on. But the cultural renaissance that Toronto is experiencing speaks to the strength of commitment that leadership continuity can provide. I mean, Peter Simon and I, we're way beyond the normal career spans that you're supposed to have. But there's something to be said for that continuity of energy and the absolute importance of making it conform to vision."

Of course, as Sirman is fond of pointing out, it's one thing to "create the building," another to "create the winning conditions to sustain it." While he's pleased Ontario's former Conservative government invested $20-million in Grand Jeté in 2002, followed this year by a $5-million top-up from the McGuinty Liberals, he's concerned the province still hasn't restored even a portion of the funding that then-Premier Mike Harris cut off in November, 1995, as part of the so-called Common Sense Revolution. Prior to that, for almost 30 consecutive years, the province had given, on average, just over $800,000 each year -- dollars that sometimes accounted for as much as 20 per cent of the NBS's operating budget. "The deterioration in our relationship with the province came out of left field," Sirman observed, "and it's taking a lot of energy to put us back on the rails."

At the RCM, Peter Simon sees no end to his need for money. Indeed, the conservatory's endowment today stands at a rather paltry $7.2-million whereas that of one of his alma maters, Juilliard -- founded almost 20 years after the RCM -- currently exceeds $1-billion (U.S.). "We will continue to fundraise at a very high level. Forever. Because we need to expand and also to compete with international players, who also have very deep pockets." Given those aims and that pressure, is it any wonder that at least once a week Simon feels the need to go to the piano at his home or the 1920s Steinway in his office to play without interruption for an hour?

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The Collector
It started as 'some yellow china in the living-room cupboard,' Helen Gardiner tells KATE TAYLOR. Now, in the middle of a $20-million expansion, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art is ready to welcome the world


Helen Gardiner's condo in Toronto's Yorkville district is decorated with a few choice pieces of antique porcelain -- and located a stone's throw from the ceramics museum that was founded to house the rest of a treasured collection she assembled with her late husband, Toronto businessman George R. Gardiner. You can't, however, see the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art from her windows: The view southward to Queen's Park is blocked by the Four Seasons Hotel. It's the perfect geography for a model benefactor, nicely close at hand with the necessary millions but not hovering possessively over day-to-day operations.

For three decades now, Gardiner, 67, has undertaken an education in collecting, an obsessive pastime that can rapidly turn rich people into philanthropists and private fortunes into public assets. She began in 1978, the year her millionaire husband sent her off to England to study the decorative arts at Christie's auction house so that she could start buying ceramics with authority, and she passed to the next grade in 1984 when packers stripped her house of the 3,000 objects that would establish the new Gardiner Museum. There followed some very hard lessons as the undercapitalized museum struggled financially and had to be taken over by the Royal Ontario Museum, but today it's independent again and booming: Gardiner can now study its $20-million expansion project from a pleasant distance.

"There was a huge learning curve," she recalled in a recent interview. "We had no idea how to run a museum."

Her collecting began when Helen Gardiner, a former media buyer and manager in the advertising industry, first moved in with her husband in the 1970s -- they would marry in 1981, a second marriage for both -- and they started decorating his house.

"My husband said, 'How about some yellow china in the living-room cupboard?' It was that simple. . . . I said pre-Columbian would be great in the basement."

Well, maybe not that simple: The china was the precious 18th-century German Meissen prized for its fine decorations hand-painted on a bright yellow ground; ceramics from the ancient cultures of South and Central America are rare and expensive. George Gardiner was a highly successful financier -- he founded Canada's first discount brokerage and introduced the country to Kentucky Fried Chicken -- and soon found a business angle on the couple's new hobby.

"My husband, being the ultimate businessman, read a thing in Fortune about the best hedges against inflation -- we were going into double digit at the time. The top thing was Oriental ceramics, the second was European."

So, George Gardiner began to put aside millions to buy ceramics, filling every cupboard, every drawer and every room in the house, and soon expanding the collection to include the brightly coloured Italian wares known as majolica. Rapidly, the collection -- which was valued at more than $16-million when it was eventually donated to the people of Ontario -- was taking on a life of its own.

"He said we have all this wonderful stuff. People can't see it, we can't even see it," Helen Gardiner recalls. So, within five short years, her husband was already establishing a public museum as a way of sharing the collection. It would be an alternative to leaving behind a charitable foundation that would disperse his wealth after his death. (George Gardiner died in 1997 at age 80.) Helen Gardiner loves the intimacy of ceramics, and argues they are imminently accessible: "We have all grown up with cups and saucers and plates."

Nonetheless, turning a private collection of rare treasures into a popular public institution proved a much greater challenge than buying the ceramics in the first place. The $6-million Gardiner Museum opened with a skeleton staff in 1984 and went through three directors in its first year. Attendance was sparse and despite an endowment fund, the museum was soon petitioning the Ontario government for operating grants: The long-suffering taxpayers of the 1980s could have been forgiven if they started to look a gift horse in the mouth and ask why they should pay to house the Gardiners' china. Instead, the province forced the institution to merge with the ROM, its big sister across the street, in 1987.

"The government decided we needed the ROM's management expertise. We learned so much from those years," Gardiner said. She adds, however, that the ROM only saw the Gardiner as one collection, while the institution itself increasingly wanted to grow. The next phase began in 1996, shortly before George Gardiner's death, when he bought the museum its independence with a $15-million endowment. Now, it was poised to expand beyond the Gardiners' personal vision: The couple had only collected antiques, but adding contemporary ceramics to the collection would help bring in new audiences and ensure relevancy by establishing relations with living potters. By the late 1990s, the museum had begun to attract other collections -- including the 200 pieces of blue and white Chinese porcelain donated by Ann Walker Bell and Aaron Milrad's contemporary ceramics -- a sign that it now existed as something more than a private treasure trove.

As the collection grew, it needed more space. The original Queen's Park building was so small the majolica and the Dutch Delftware had to be packed away whenever there was a temporary exhibit. The renovation, which adds a third storey and is set to open in June, will increase exhibition space by 50 per cent, add a small research library and expand the basement studio to make room for artists-in-residence and more of the museum's highly popular pottery classes.

Helen Gardiner's final class was in lobbying. In 2002, the Gardiner was added to the list of big cultural projects funded by Ontario's SuperBuild fund; Ontario and the federal government are committed to paying about a third of the budget, with various private donors giving the rest. She herself is down for one last million: both Helen Gardiner and her husband's museum are ready to graduate now.

11,467 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
The Visionary
As director and CEO, William Thorsell brings an aesthetic imperative to the Royal Ontario Museum, writes VAL ROSS. But it's his legendary charm, drive and enthusiasm that have convinced so many donors to open their wallets and get behind the ROM reno

William Thorsell bolts with swift grace up a shuddering scaffolding staircase to the roof of the Royal Ontario Museum construction site. After three flights, the ROM's CEO and director, a fit 61, isn't even winded. Is this another display of Thorsellian superiority, his alpha-male ability to get to the top? The visitor panting up the stairs behind him recalls that when he was editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail (1989-1999) he was capable of displays of ego-crushing domination -- but when, mercurially, he switched on the charm, it was hard to resist the spell of the low, firm voice, the eloquent intelligence and the sense of scarcely tethered energy.

The first thing to know about Thorsell is that he was born in Camrose, Alta., on July 6, 1945, to a Scandinavian family which he has described as "Bergmanesque" (which conjures up images of long, austere silences). William, the middle of three brainy children, was the hungriest for big-city sophistication. A top student, he earned an MA in 20th-century intellectual history from the University of Alberta, and a master's in public and international affairs from Princeton. Switching from an academic career to journalism, he was famous, in his days at the Edmonton Journal, for parties at which he'd sit at the grand piano to play Shostakovich or show tunes.

This hunger and these skills have served him well since the ROM hired him in 2000 to pilot the museum through an ambitious transformation. (While the budget has crept up slightly over the past two months, to $244-million from $240-million, the project is still on time.)

"William electrified us when he arrived," says David Palmer, president of the ROM board of governors. The ROM job proved a good fit: Despite Thorsell's conservative ideological reputation he's capable of 180-degree changes of mind, in love with the shock of the new.

Most of all, he has a strong aesthetic imperative ("A gay man takes over an old building and what's the first thing he does? Drops a quarter-billion in renovations," wrote Mitchel Raphael in a cheeky profile in the journal fab.) In fact, if there's a rap against Thorsell, critics say his aesthetic sense can trump other considerations, such as keeping the ROM family-friendly ("This is a collections-based museum," Thorsell says, "not a theme park"). For that matter, aesthetics seems to be a stronger priority than the supply of scholarly information.

This might explain the museum's current problem with labels. When the ROM's elegant new Asian and first-nations galleries opened earlier this year, the display labels were so confusing, more than 1,000 of them had to be redone by the designers, Haley Sharpe of Leicester. Thorsell had thrown his weight behind a ROM committee awarding this company, one of the world's most prestigious, a $10-million contract for exhibition design. "As they started putting up the labels I realized the design was all wrong. Too cluttering, too intrusive," he says. But aesthetics isn't what annoyed some ROM visitors. They complained that the labels were confusingly placed, hard to read and didn't offer enough information to satisfy their curiosity.

On the other hand, it is Thorsell's powers of persuasion (and the ROM's classy new image) that convinced Canada's top furniture and carpet designers to donate an estimated $650,000 worth of leather sofas and chairs, tables and rugs to the new galleries, and that has lured so many first-time donors to open their wallets. "The boards asked me, 'How can we possibly raise $200-million?' " says Thorsell. "I said, 'If you come up with something modest, you can't. You have to create the landscape of desire.' "

So he has done so. As head of the C.D. Howe Institute, Jack Mintz had published a study downplaying the economic impact of investment in the arts; however, as a private citizen, Mintz became a first-time donor to the ROM, joining the hundreds who have contributed a total, to date, of $141.7-million -- "because I was impressed by Thorsell, and the real sense of excitement."

Conjuring up excitement is what Thorsell does whenever he shows visitors around his emerging museum: He seduces with talk of a "staircase of wonders" (featuring vitrines showing everything from toy soldiers to giant snakes), of a space being created for a "sound museum" (it will be haunted by the sounds of bells, birdsong, a far-off train) . . . and the daring new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal designed by Daniel Libeskind, which Thorsell calls "glass kissing stone -- the most beautiful kiss in the history of architecture."

On rare occasions, Thorsell's persuasive powers fail him. Community groups resisted the ROM's plan for a giant condo tower, revenues from which would have added much to the museum's expansion budget. He admits, "The dislike was so visceral, we've had to go back to the drawing board." But he is coolly determined to make use of that space at the building's south end and talks confidently of inviting community groups and city planners to hear future plans. The next time the ROM proposes a development project, there will be no defeat. William Thorsell will see to it that all the players gaze upon a landscape of desire.

Premium Member
84,387 Posts
Thanks for posting them, Samson... they were good articles. I have noticed the Globe slowly taking a more active interest in Toronto... 5 years ago they would never have dreamt of doing a series about Toronto that was in any way positive or upbeat, as they were more interested then in minimalising their connection with Toronto, and trying to appear to be a national paper floating somewhere anonymous across Canada. I think reality eventually sank in when The Star started picking up a lot of Toronto readers who got tired of not getting any intelligent, indepth analysis of Toronto events. Also the Post has been a lot more positive this past year, too. A good sign for us!
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