Manitoba Opera’s endowment fund gifted $1.75 million
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The Manitoba Opera has received its largest ever financial donation, a $1-million contribution from Gail Asper toward the local institution’s endowment campaign.
At a morning reception at the Centennial Concert Hall on Oct. 11, Asper — the local philanthropist who has sung in nine of the opera company’s productions as a member of the chorus — called the donation a “very personal” one, mentioning her late mother, Babs, whom she called a staunch supporter of local arts and culture.
“A thriving arts sector is the heart of any city, and Winnipeg is fortunate to have a professional opera company,” said Asper, who spearheaded the development of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and is president and trustee for the Asper Foundation. “I mean, Ottawa hasn’t had a thriving opera company for many, many, many years, so I’ve always been very grateful that we have that.”
The $1-million contribution to the endowment campaign was announced by Manitoba Opera’s general director and CEO Larry Desrochers, along with three $250,000 financial gifts from each of Phil and Ilse Ens, Tannis Richardson and the BMO Financial Group, which is a corporate sponsor for the upcoming season. The overall goal of the campaign, entitled The Power of Voice, is $10 million; to date $3,146,564 has been raised.
Not far from the podium was a giant novelty cheque itemizing the day’s announced contributions.
That money will lead to long-term sustainability for the company, Desrochers said, as it will accrue interest and grow through investment, paying the organization $500,000 annually once the goal is reached.
When considering the opera’s annual operating budget, which currently sits at just over $2.5 million, it becomes clear how significant those endowment funds are, Desrochers said. All “gifts” given to the endowment fund will also be matched through federal programs and the Winnipeg Foundation.
He called it a “predictable stream of revenue” which, for an arts organization emerging from the darkest financial period in its 50-year history, is especially valuable.
“It’s tremendously important, but the planning for this happened long before the pandemic,” Desrochers said. “The pandemic created a hiccup in moving forward with the campaign, obviously, but it’s incredibly important to create some sustainability for the organization to weather the ups and downs that are going to come our way.”
A minor down occurred Tuesday morning when Monica Huisman, who had been scheduled to sing at the reception, called in sick before the event. That put Desrochers in a temporary bind, until he looked out his window and saw executive assistant Kyle Briscoe.
More than a clerical worker, Briscoe is no singing slouch, having recently graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in vocal performance. Briscoe quickly prepared a solo to entertain the guests, chosing Una Fortiva Lagrima (A furtive tear) from L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti.
Briscoe, a tenor, called it “a song of hope” shortly before beginning his performance, accompanied by Laura Loewen on piano.
Desrochers quipped that Briscoe would be singing at all future staff lunches, while Asper was particularly taken by his performance, saying that the development of artists like him is exactly what the endowment fund will support.
“We just seem to have opera stars lurking in every corner of this province,” said Asper, who wore a scarf adorned with musical notes.
Asper lauded the benefits of endowment funds and encouraged others to consider supporting the fund.
“I hope that my gift will inspire others to join the campaign. I hope that everyone who also loves opera will make a pledge, which can be paid over several years,” she said.
“It does not have to be $1 million or $250,000,” she said. “One thousand gifts of $1,000 becomes $1 million — my math might be off — but then it could be $2 million. It doesn’t have to be these large, large gifts. Every gift really matters,” she said.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.