Thirteen years with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and ten years with the Winnipeg Folk Festival have flown by. I often wished for even one boring day, but for twenty-three years my days were filled to the brim with meetings, performances, reports to write, board meetings and committee meetings to attend, funds to raise, grant and sponsorship proposals to write, and so many wonderful and inspiring people without whom these years would be devoid of meaning. As I engage in the process of disengaging myself from the day to day operations of leading a performing arts organization, I find myself thinking about and being grateful for the people who have provided role models and inspiration for my working life. I’d like to tell you about one of those people in this month’s column.
Thirty-three years ago, I started a brand new job as the very first cultural consultant for the City of Gloucester, which has now been amalgamated into Ottawa. I had just moved to Ottawa, and I knew very few people in the city. In my first week on the job, I was asked to represent the City of Gloucester at an event at the Chateau Laurier. I should go to the hotel for 6:00 pm, and my ticket would be waiting for me at the reception table. On the appointed evening, I appeared at the hotel ready to find my way to the event space. Suddenly I was approached by a very impressive looking woman, who ran right up to me and hugged me enthusiastically and announced in a loud voice, “Heather, it is so wonderful to see you here tonight. How are you?” There were so many people in the lobby looking at us, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I said I was just fine, and delighted to see her as well. We should definitely meet for lunch soon. I was quite surprised, but I felt somehow oddly welcomed to Ottawa, even though I had no idea who had welcomed me.
I made my way over to the ballroom, picked up my ticket, and found my way to my assigned table. At that point I looked at large banner on the wall, and the program in my hand, and I was very shocked to see that the event was titled “Tribute to Trudy.”
Of course, I knew that this could not be a tribute to me in my first week on the job, any more than the effusive welcome to Heather in the lobby had not actually been for me. However, as a person whose name is uncommon enough that I have never ever found my name included in those racks of personalized key chains, or mugs……this really was totally thrilling in a vicarious way. It seemed to be a good omen for my career in arts management.
Some of these pivotal events in life do sneak up on a person in most surprising ways.
That evening I learned a lot about a wonderful woman named Trudy Le Caine, and I was inspired to try to live my life in the Trudy way. While Trudy Le Caine was a teacher of French at a public school in Ottawa, and not a person of great financial means, she had an unshakeable belief that the arts should not be taken for granted, that the arts needed to be nurtured in the community, and that exposure to the arts would help all people live more fulfilling lives.
She was a tireless organizer, fundraiser, a people connector, and an idea generator. She was one of the early proponents of the National Arts Centre, and for many years served on the board of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra. She started a children’s concert series and helped to found Opera Lyra, Espace Musique, and La Groupe de La Place Royale. She cajoled and advocated for the arts to politicians, donors, community members and anyone who she felt could help the cause she was working on at the moment.
Trudy Le Caine is also credited with an idea that has also had a very big impact in Winnipeg.
In Trudy’s words:
“I decided that Ottawa should have what New York has. So I thought wouldn’t it be nice if we had 500 or 600 feet in front of the National Arts Centre where people could skate. And then that would be fine, and so I rolled up my sleeves and I started. And you know, sometimes it’s good to be pig-headed.”
Trudy Le Caine, 1999 in the Ottawa Citizen
Trudy pitched the idea of a small rink next to the NAC, first to unconvinced city officials, then to Douglas Fullerton, a friend who chaired the National Capital Commission. Fullerton ran with the idea, sending a crew to shovel off a five-kilometre stretch of the Rideau Canal in January 1971. The rest is history…..and her idea proved to be an inspiration for Winnipeg as well.
Many people spoke that evening about Trudy’s role in building the arts community in Ottawa. They described her as indefatigable and a woman of iron determination….
So, what did I learn that night long ago, that has inspired my work through these many years in which I have thought of myself primarily as a community builder with the arts as the means to create a better, stronger, more connected community.
1. First, that the art has to be at the centre of what you try to do. The art itself has the power to inspire, challenge, refresh, and transform people.
2. Second, that you do not have to wait for people of greater influence, talent, wealth, or connections to make things happen. Ordinary people determined to change and enliven their communities can through their collective efforts make incredible things happen for the benefit of all people.
3. Third, that persistence is critical to the success of a venture, and that success does not usually come quickly. (And yes, we do still need to have the acoustical shell in the Centennial Concert Hall repaired.)
4. Fourth, that you can do all these things while still being committed to care for people, even those with whom you have fundamental disagreements.
5. Fifth, that this all works better, if you don’t exactly colour inside the lines. Connecting ideas, causes, art, different parts of the community, different institutions and roles. Together, we can do so much more than one organization or one person. It does, however, take the commitment of each individual person to accomplish this.
And, I could not end this reflection without reminding you all that there is no year in which it will be more important to support the arts organizations you cherish by purchasing a subscription.
Trudy Schroeder provides project planning and management services to the community through Arts & Heritage Solutions