The Arts Club is thrilled to announce the launch of our summer Matching Campaign, made possible by Phil Bernard. Until July 15, Phil will match all gifts made to the Arts Club, up to $25,000!
Phil’s time with the Arts Club has spanned over 40 years: as a patron, donor, supplier, volunteer, chair of our Board of Directors, and most recently as a member of our Council of Governors.
He began his career as a production manager and lighting director in theatre, film, television, and live music, and went on to found 13 companies in nine cities across North America, providing lighting, sound, scenery, and stage mechanics for numerous productions.
Phil first knew the Arts Club as an entertainment lighting supplier in the mid-70s, and quickly became part of the Arts Club family. When the Arts Club opened a new theatre in 1979, Phil helped lead a parade from the Seymour Stage across the Granville Street bridge, to the then unknown Granville Island. We spoke to Phil to learn more about his relationship with the Arts Club, and why he decided to make such a generous gift.
Tell us about the culture of the Arts Club in the ’70s, when you first became involved.
I would describe the Arts Club on Seymour Street as a small theatre company back then, with verve, with character, enthusiasm, and a following. The Ann Mortifees, the Pat Roses—wow! What an exciting time. You needed to be at the bar on days when the actors and musicians showed up! This was a ‘character’ place to be.
I still have two of the Seymour Stage bricks. As the building was torn down, the Arts Club found a way of inviting $100 per brick as a donation. I still want to put them into a new theatre somewhere. Maybe we’ll have to do a fourth theatre!
How did you come to join the Board of Directors?
Bill asked me to join the Board in 1994. I was extremely honoured. The Chair of the Board at that time was Bruce Milley, a partner in the Grant Thornton accounting firm who were also my company accountants. Bruce had become a good friend and remains as such to this day. So these were exciting times for me, to be asked to join.
What was the Board like at the time?
It was a fun time. We loved the theatre, but I think we were finding ourselves up against the wall of government change in policy. We needed a change in the way the Board governed and how the theatre was operating.
It was a matter of moving forward and learning the words “governance” and “philanthropy.” Those were hard learned lessons when you start from zero. There was, at the time, what I would call a lack of support from the downtown corporate community including the lawyers and accountants who were needed for both the Board and as a donor base for the company. I would suspect that we were considered to be a slightly bohemian company on Granville Island, and we needed to change public perception.
As the Chair of the Board, what were some of the challenges you faced?
By the time the Stanley Theatre opened in 1998, Bill was an overloaded General Manager and Artistic Director. The club was growing—with a new stage came many more productions, and we really needed to look at a stronger management team. So, we went about researching and finding a new General Manager, one who would complement Bill’s very entrepreneurial and directorial capabilities. And we found such a gentleman in Howard Jang. Howard came from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and had been well schooled in the nonprofit area of business. He helped in a major way in how the Arts Club moved forward. Beyond that, he also taught the Board the best practices of governance.
Governance is the word of the century for all Boards, both nonprofit and for profit. The other word, I would say, is fund development. Fund development was a huge challenge. I think being entrepreneurial isn’t always enough. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Arts Club was not the recipient of the government’s major donations and grants, and it was receiving a considerable amount less than the other theatre companies in Canada. That turned out to be a good thing. As policies changed especially in the ’90s and the funding went down, many of the theatre companies who had become dependent on those funds perhaps didn’t survive or went through massive struggles. Meanwhile the Arts Club, I feel, forged ahead because they had developed a resilient work ethic.
Why did you decide to be a matching donor?
I had always intended to leave a donation to the Arts Club in my will for its future. Last year, I was asked about the Capital Campaign at the new BMO Theatre Centre. When I sat down and really thought about it, I didn’t want to be a part of the Capital Campaign, but I felt I wanted to support theatre production. It came from my background, of being in productions all of my business life.
Through this Matching Campaign, I felt I might be able to talk to the rest of my generation about our sense of philanthropy, and the need to make sure that the Arts Club can weather the changes that are coming in our world of entertainment, in the new electronic world. I think it’s extremely important that we fund the Arts Club now so that in the future, they can make choices about how they face their public and face their audience.
What do you envision for the Arts Club’s future?
The Arts Club has a strong well-structured base that can make a wonderful contribution to Canadian society, but there are many hurdles. I see the problems surrounding fund development and the understanding of philanthropy. I feel that my generation, growing up, found themselves relying on government money. I think that we depended on a more socially based society where public money took care of heritage and cultural issues. Unfortunately funding cutbacks have created a gap that has yet to be filled by individual donors. We need to make sure that, going forward, we have been advocates for the future of theatre in Canada.
Join Phil in becoming an advocate for theatre artists in the community. Donate to the Matching Campaign by July 15 and your gift will go twice as far. Donate online, or call our Development team at 604.687.5315, ext. 847, today!