Israel Asper, Edmund C. Bovey Award, 2001

The 2001 jury was unanimous in its decision: CanWest Global Communications Corp.’s Executive Chairman, Israel Asper, O.C., was the winner of the Edmund C. Bovey Award for leadership support of the arts, presented annually by The Council for Business and the Arts in Canada (CBAC).

“Izzy Asper exemplifies the qualities we celebrate in the Bovey Award,” says CBAC President Sarah Iley. “He’s a remarkable Canadian entrepreneur who has ensured that the company of which he is the majority shareholder makes a significant contribution to improving our quality of life. CanWest Global sponsors all kinds of arts activities and events, from ballet to jazz, and the Executive Chairman himself is a renowned donor and volunteer fund raiser.”

It was this combination of corporate and personal leadership that so impressed the jury. Drawn from both the business and arts sectors, the jury adjudicated nominations for the annual award that were jointly put forward by arts organizations and businesses across Canada.

While there were many impressive nominees whose business success had enabled outstanding personal philanthropy, Mr. Asper seamlessly blends the two. For example, while his company’s foundation provided half a million dollars as the lead gift to build Winnipeg’s outdoor stage in Assiniboine Park, Asper went on to personally lead the fund raising campaign for an endowment to ensure it could provide audiences with free performances in perpetuity. “The Lyric” stage is both a remarkable corporate investment in community as well as a personal labour of love: it is named after the movie theatre Asper’s father ran in Minnedosa, Manitoba .

Mr. Asper was nominated by the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, and seconded by CBAC Member James Richardson & Sons. President & CEO, Hartley Richardson, wrote, “In my view, his commitment to the arts in Manitoba has assisted in creating a unique atmosphere here, and as a result, I believe no other province our size has such a rich cultural community.”

The Edmund C. Bovey Award was presented to Israel Asper at a special celebration in Winnipeg this fall.

True to form, Asper divided his prize money in two, and then tripled it as he gave it away. He presented a cheque for half his winnings – $10,000 – to the Manitoba Theatre for Young People – and then matched it with a $10,000 cheque of his own. The remaining $10,000 in prize money went to the Endowment Fund for free concerts at The Lyric Stage in Assiniboine Park. Again, Asper matched it, and this time, under an agreement with the Winnipeg Foundation, that total gift was also matched.

“Not bad for a non-fundraising dinner to generate a net donation of $60,000 for the arts community,” he said.

Asper literally put his money behind his words. In his acceptance speech, he had spoken eloquently of “the need for individuals and businesses with the financial capacity to take more responsibility for the financing and responsible governance of the arts ..- the soul and humanizing aspect of our incredible society.”

“Our new objective must be not to just maintain or even increase our personal support for the arts,” he said. “It is to double and triple our army of colleagues in this magnificent enterprise. We must now all become missionaries, sales persons and recruiters.”