By Dorothy Dobbie


I have spent many years volunteering for one organization or another and dealing, as president, with a variety of executive directors. Some are better than others.

Of the not so wonderful ones, are those who see volunteer support committees as competition to the paid support instead of welcoming them with open arms and being grateful for their efforts. As counter intuitive as this may seem and regardless of the kind of financial and friend raising support they provide, these executive directors will go to extreme measures to get rid of the “rival”.

One such successful effort happened with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. The offending administrator is no longer with the Park and the volunteer component has been revived, but when this individual took over, the first thing she did was disband the Friends of Assiniboine Park and even stripped their name away from them. Their wonderful gift shop was closed. They ended up calling themselves The Friends of Manitoba Gardens. Still, they missed the sense of purpose they had when they used to gather in March at the greenhouses and help with the planting and pruning and transplanting or whatever was needed.

The same thing was attempted when I became the president of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The then executive director made a determined effort to banish the Women’s Committee. First, he moved them from their central location in the lobby to a secondary spot on the side lines. Then he tried to get rid of them all together. I stopped it and restored their key lobby location, much to the delight of patrons who enjoy shopping and looking at the music related items for sale there.

Now, I understand that once again there is an attempt to remove the Women’s committee, relocating their Music Stand to the sidelines as a first step. There seems to be no appreciation for the $45,000 they raise each year as if this was a mere trifle. It is not like they don’t need the money. I hear the orchestra has another large deficit to cover. How did that happen when they were so well-placed post COVID-19?

In fairness, I have not interviewed the administration so I cannot comment on the motive for this move, but I can comment on the experience of the concert goer. Coming to the Hall a little early to get a parking spot is important to older patrons. Having something to do while waiting for the concert to begin is part of the experience. This is where you will often run into old friends. And you can purchase items that help to spread the word about the WSO. I bought a WSO monogrammed red fleece jacket years ago that was so admired by a teenage granddaughter that I had to purchase one for her. I often did some of my Christmas shopping here.

Branded merchandise such as the fleece, purchased from the Women’s Committee Music Stand, is another way to spread awareness of the orchestra.

There seems to be a disconnect between the public and the administration of the orchestra these days. Winnipeg is a small market. We get more than our share of patrons for the arts from the population at large and they stick with us loyally all their lives, gradually introducing their children and grandchildren as the renewal generation. This is not an insignificant audience. People are living well into their 90s and beyond and they keep attending concerts until the very end. Why would we wish to dismiss them as irrelevant?

But maybe their apparent removal is just simple optics. Maybe I am dead wrong, and the Women’s Committee of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra remains as relevant and valued as it should be. 

I hope so. They make a wonderful contribution in so many ways.

Dorothy Dobbie is the former president of the WSO.

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