Three ladies, Mesdames Sydney Mulqueen, Pearl Whitehead and Aileen Woods first raised funds to bring Celia Franca to Canada and then to realize the first performance at the Eaton Auditorium on November 12, 1951. Then these ambitious ladies spent the rest of 1951 working with other women supporters and laying plans for the founding of a formal “Women’s Committee”. It is no exaggeration to say that if there had been no Women’s Committee in those early days there would be no National Ballet. Known as the National Ballet Guild, the mandate was to encourage interest in the ballet, and The National Ballet in particular. Although the Guild never succeeded in its aim in having a fully national structure, it did, in its heyday, have active branches in Toronto, Hamilton, Oakville, St. Catharines, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Windsor, Belleville, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, and even Buffalo. They provided grass root support for the company in their communities and conducted year round activities to raise money to finance the Company’s tours to their community. The local Guild would sponsor the Company’s appearance, doing advance publicity, selling tickets, handling arrangements with the local theatre, and in the early days, provide lodging and hospitality for company members. The branches also provided scholarships to dancers within the Company and at the National Ballet School. Unfortunately this network of volunteer Guilds did not survive. The Constitution and Standing rules of the Toronto Branch were rewritten to become The Volunteer Committee, The National Ballet of Canada in 1972.
Many and varied were the money raising efforts – there were fashion shows, supper dances, ballet lectures, demonstrations, and dance teachers’ fairs. The main events over the years became a gala ball (no longer held due to changing times), Paper Things, The Boutique in the theatre lobby and Art Shows.
The Build-A-Ballet™ fund began with giving $150,000 for Sir Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée in 1977. Judy Tait (President 1974-76) wrote, “nothing could be of more importance to the dancers, and therefore to the future of the Company, than funds to produce new works”. Years later, this is still true. To date, the Volunteer Committee has added 47 ballets to the Company’s repertoire (see attached listing under Build-A-Ballet Fund), contributing over $6 million dollars.
In 1952, the volunteers were women who had sufficient personal wealth and time to be able to organize fundraising on a full time basis. Today’s volunteers, both men and women, have professional careers, but are still willing to direct time and energy to raise money for interesting new productions, or otherwise support, The National Ballet of Canada. The Volunteer Committee continues to be valued for its contributions to the artistic health of the Company. The Volunteer Committee achieved charitable status in early 2009.
The Volunteer Committee, The National Ballet of Canada sponsored the 60th Anniversary Season of The National Ballet of Canada.
Below are some specific notes on current fund raising activities:
In 1963, Marg Morgan approached the developers of the Colonnade, a radical new idea that combined boutiques and retail space and luxury apartments that was about to open on Bloor Street in Toronto. She persuaded them that Paper Things would be a magnet, drawing quality shoppers to the complex and that free rent was a small repayment for this service. The Volunteer Committee planned and undertook the Colonnade’s opening as a fundraising project. The proceeds from the opening paid for the initial stocking of the shop, which by the way, sold out in the first day of operation.
In 1973 Paper Things moved to Cumberland Court at 99 Yorkville. The initial floor space was 777 sq. feet. Over the next thirty years, expansions have seen the floor space increase to just under 2000 sq. feet. The last expansion was in the summer of 2002.
For the first 35 years Paper Things was exclusively staffed by volunteers. Since 1999 volunteer staffing has been supplemented with paid employees. Currently there are three dedicated employees, including an in-house stationery designer. Volunteers still primarily run Paper Things, covering all thirteen shifts a week, doing some of the buying and merchandizing, and providing the heart to the organization.
Paper Things is overseen by a volunteer chairperson and still requires 70 volunteers a year, giving over 8,000 hours and making Paper Things a continuing success. Paper Things has become a respected destination store for discerning buyers. It continues to meet its goals of filling a unique niche in the Toronto retail scene for custom printed orders, stationery and gifts and supporting The National Ballet of Canada. Paper Things is unique in that it is the only retail organization in the country that exists to support an arts group. Since opening Paper Things has contributed over $2 million to The National Ballet of Canada. In June of 2014, Paper Things closed it doors, but will remain a large part of the proud history of The Volunteer Committee, The National Ballet of Canada
The Ballet Boutique
Another idea of some enterprising volunteers, The Ballet Boutique, started in 1974. It began with a card table displaying homemade wares created by the volunteers themselves. Today the Boutique is an integral part of the theatre going experience and is open during all performances of The National Ballet. Goods have expanded to music and DVDs, including exclusive National Ballet and hard-to-find titles.
It has always been the object of the enterprise to raise funds for the ballet. In recent years the Committee has also devoted considerable energy to promoting the Company and its dancers by creating merchandise bearing the Company’s name and logo, including t-shirts, tote bags, posters, pictures and sweats.
The Ballet Boutique moved into the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2006-07 and once again reinvented itself and took on the challenge of adapting to a new theatre and new challenges. The Ballet Boutique’s contribution to the Build-A-Ballet Fund has amounted to over $600,000 over the past six years.
The Pointe Shoe Lady
A project started and nurtured by Lynne Wilson raised over $100,000 for the Build-a-Ballet™ Fund. Lynne, “The Pointe Shoe Lady” utilized her skill as a registered nurse with over 20 years of classical ballet training to provide the perfect fit of ballet shoes focusing on the health and safety of dancers. After providing personal attention to many young dancers for over 15 years, Lynne retired in 2015.
Projects: Art Shows
Art shows evolved from early exhibitions of costume and set sketches from early Company performances. Over the years, dance related art forms were added to these exhibitions with such items as posed sketches of company members, portraits of dancers and photographs of individuals and ensembles.
By the mid 1970s the art shows accompanied performance dates and evolved to include sculpture, prints, photography, ceramics, as well as drawings and paintings. Starting in the 1980s regular exhibitions drawn from the country’s major art societies were an annual feature. Many successful artists credit the Volunteer Committee with giving them their initial exposure.
Art exhibitions were typically staged four times in the performance year. Profits (based on a 40% commission on sales) resulted in significant contributions to the Build-A-Ballet Fund.
THE VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA
Board of Directors 2015-16
President Jessica Ray
Vice President TBD
Past President Genevieve McKillop
Treasurer Heather McGeorge
Secretary Erin Stropes