Over the summer, a WSO supporter was helping her mother downsize her house in preparation for a move to a condo. In one of the drawers she found a cookbook that had been developed as a fundraiser by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Women’s Committee in 1958. The cookbook sold for a dollar a copy, and it contains all sorts of gems of 1958 prairie cooking. The introduction to the cookbook describes the commitment and contribution of the 700 member WSO Women’s Committee. The Women’s Committee still exists, and it still makes a wonderful contribution to the orchestra. This encounter made me think of the generations of community members who have worked to create the wonderful institutions we appreciate in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra was established in 1948, by a committed group of community members who believed that Winnipeg would benefit from having a symphony orchestra operating in the city. The Winnipeg Art Gallery had been established in 1912 as the first civic art gallery in Canada. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet was founded in 1939. The Manitoba Theatre Centre was founded in 1958. The Manitoba Opera was established in 1969. The Manitoba Museum and Folklorama were started in 1970, the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974….and, of course, this list does not include many wonderful cultural organizations.
The point that I am trying to make with this list of dates of establishment of community cultural organizations is that all of these institutions in our community were founded because a group of community members worked together to make something for our community to enjoy. These groups of volunteers pulled together the resources and support needed to build organizations that could hire professional staff members and artists, become employers of many specialized people, and create art and dance, theatre and symphonic concerts for the benefit of our community as a whole.
All of these organizations, created by community will, generosity, and vision have played a role in making our community a place where we can all enjoy art, symphonic music, ballet, theatre, museums, festivals and so much more. The work of the founding volunteers continues in the ongoing work of board members and volunteer committees of many types in each of these organizations. The shared care for these institutions brings together people from many walks of life, political affiliations, professional skills, cultural backgrounds, financial means, and educational backgrounds. I have watched board members who come from radically different political backgrounds start out with mutual distrust and become trusted colleagues and friends over the course of working on the board of an arts organization. Our world needs more of this. Our community needs these institutions to survive and thrive.
In a world that is filled with so much divisiveness and arbitrary boundaries, it is refreshing to watch diverse groups of volunteers work together for the good of the whole community. Their efforts, financial generosity, and contributions of time and wisdom is clearly rewarding for all of them, and it is also a real benefit to our society as a whole. The decades of history and generations of volunteer support have made Winnipeg a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
We want to ensure that all of these vital institutions survive the current international health crisis. This is the challenge that our generation faces. We have benefitted from the generosity and work of previous generations, and now we must find ways to support the WSO, the RWB, the WAG, Manitoba Museum and all the others as they fight valiantly to survive.
The other day a friend of mine told me that he was just waiting for the WSO to send him a letter asking for financial donations. He knows that we must be struggling, and he wants to help, but he is waiting for an invitation to give a gift. Could all Winnipeggers count this as an invitation to give generously to the arts organizations you love? We all want to be there when it is safe to gather our audiences once more. Now, as we head into the final stretch of 2020, consider how many of these great organizations you could call with your credit card in hand and make a donation. It will make a world of difference.
Trudy Schroeder is the Executive Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.