NACO would not be on tour without a generous helping hand

From the left: Janice O'Born, Canada's Ambassador to Sweden, Heather Grant, and Dasha Shenkman in the Royal Chapel in the palace in Stockholm. Photo: Fred Cattroll

STOCKHOLM — Janice O’Born remembers the privations after the Second World War in Britain.

She was born and raised in Winchester, the venerable cathedral town where she was taught, by her grandmother, that it was important to volunteer, to lend a helping hand.

“I started at 16 volunteering in a hospital on Friday nights and Saturdays. It goes deep with me.” She also worked with disabled children in the summer.

“My grandmother gave me a great moral compass. She would cross the road to put a nickel into a Salvation Army kettle.”

“I didn’t have some cash to give, but I always gave of myself.”

Some 40 years ago she moved the Vancouver, after travelling to Malta and Australia, doing the world tour.

That’s where she met and married Earle O’Born. He had founded a company called The Printing House that was doing very well.

Some 35 years ago, Earle said to Janice: “We have always given, but we have done it in an organized manner. How can we organize it?”  

They decided to get down to brass tacks, set up The Printing House Charitable Office (which Janice runs) and “choose what we want to support. … It has to be Canadian, primarily women and children, in fields that are not supported and the arts is one of them. Only four per cent of Canadian donations go to the arts.”

There are more guidelines: “We only give to charities where we can become involved. We invest in people. We don’t just give money to build a building and walk away.

“I don’t want to control it, but I want to see the benefits of what we are doing.”

One of the things that the O’Borns have chosen to support is the NAC Orchestra’s 50th anniversary tour of Europe. They are the tour sponsors.

How does that meet her criteria?

“I feel that the level of harmony, of competence, of comfort, within the orchestra has grown on tour and that will give residual benefit when they go back to Ottawa.”

Each NACO tour is dominated by educational outreach events.

“It is paramount to us because we see the benefits of music with children, so we know that with adults it will be 10-fold. We thrive with music, we thrive with the arts around us.

“And, of course, so many of our children are not getting this in school now. So how can we enhance people’s lives? How can we enrich them, how can we make people feel good?

“If you are listening to music, it gives you balance. I think it creates harmony.”

Janice also chairs the NAC Foundation board so she knows what the tours mean.

Without the foundation, the NAC would function, but “it wouldn’t function with same excellence. That is what is driving me to do the work and us to make the donation.”

She is also particularly involved with Indigenous charities, so she is aware of the new Indigenous theatre at the NAC.

The recent decision not to increase the operating budget to secure the fate of Indigenous theatre was a disappointment.

“Even $1 or $2 million would make a huge impact at the NAC wouldn’t even be noticed on the federal budget line.

“I think it’s about time we stop saying reconciliation, reconciliation. That’s just a word. It’s time to just do it.

“I  don’t believe the government understands or realizes what the NAC is going to do. Let’s hope when they do understand that they say ‘we must get them some money’.”

A former prime minister once said the arts were elitist?

“I don’t think it’s elitist. At school I used to play a recorder. That’s not elitist. I played a recorder because that’s all my parents could afford. I couldn’t afford a violin.

“I loved it and i wanted to be the best in my class. I loved singing in choir again no cost I could use my voice.”

O’Born takes a great sense of pride in the room in the NAC that bears their name.

“People are getting married in there and starting their lives together. Maybe those couples will be inspired to start something themselves.”

The O’Borns invest in health care and education. But music is there for a reason.

“If we put money in the musicians, there is a huge impact. People in Europe are seeing Canada in a different light and they are exposing six composers to wider audience.”

For Dasha Shenkman, the focus is education. Her contribution is funding the 60 some outreach events that NACO has done in Europe.

Shenkman, who was born in Ottawa but who has lived most of her life in London, has supported the past three tours the orchestra has done.

“First of all any education is important but I think these days in particular music is a wonderful way of communicating.

“You don’t need any words. It’s a way of bringing people together and helping people to listen to others, something of which there is too little.”

Shenkman has been involved in a lot of community building work through music in London and elsewhere.

“I have been involved in a hospital in England where music is used in dementia wards and with stroke victims. It triggers memories, relaxes people and it makes people happy.

And, she said, she has seen how it brings young people together through the Concordia Foundation where Shenkman is a trustee. It was started by woman named Gilliam Humphreys.

“Mother Theresa said to Humphreys years ago, ‘Doctors may heal the body but music heals the spirit’,” Shenkman said.

Shenkman was exposed to the arts through her parents Harold and Belle Shenkman. Her mother in particular “was a terrific musician but the whole family was involved. We went to concerts and galleries.

“I am fortunate enough to have been turned on to all of these things and fortunate enough to be able to help expose people to something they might not normally be,  why not.

“Something my parents shared that they passed to us children was a great curiosity about lots of things and the importance of giving back in whatever way you can.”

Lesson learned.

For the NAC Orchestra, the patrons are the key to the wider world. The orchestra would not be touring without the support they give.

The last four were only possible with the support of patrons — China (2013), the U.K. (2014), Canada (2017) and Europe. The patrons have kicked in some $2.5 million over the years.

For the Europe tour, the other key patrons are Margaret and David Fountain (Halifax),  and Elinor Gill Ratcliffe (St. John’s, Newfoundland).

Donors contribute to the NAC Foundation which in turn covers about 15 per cent of the NAC’s operations, said Jayne Watson, the CEO of the Foundation in an email. In the last fiscal year some $14 million was raised in small and large donations.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.