Studies & Facts

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Arts Patrons, Impresarios, and Philanthropists in Saskatchewan

Part 4: Jacqui Shumiatcher

« Back

By Dave Margoshes

She’s been called one of two “grande dames of Regina” for her generosity and dedication to the city’s arts and culture. She’s been proclaimed “citizen of the year,” extolled as "a model of citizenship," serenaded by a symphony orchestra –and that in her 80s!

All of this, Jacqui Shumiatcher dismisses with a modest wave of her hand. The honours she’s had – both on her own and as part of the city’s leading arts power couple with her late husband Morris, as philanthropists in general and specifically as patrons of the arts – make her feel “unworthy,” she says. “Others are more worthy, I’m sure. It always makes me feel self-conscious, that I can’t live up to expectations.”

But, at 85 and still going strong, Jacqui Shumiatcher continues to meet expectation – and exceed them – just fine.

“She is completely remarkable,” says friend and colleague Lyn Goldman, herself a noted patron and active volunteer in Regina’s arts scene. “I cannot think of anyone else like her. Not only does she give a ton of money – and very thoughtfully done – but she goes to everything. That’s very important – she not only supports the arts but shows her support. I can’t think of anyone who does more.”

As Nick Miliokas, a Regina Leader Post writer put it in a tribute to Shumiatcher a few years ago: “It would be impossible to express adequately in words the contribution Jacqui Shumiatcher has made to this city over the years as a benefactor of the fine arts. Nor can her patronage be measured strictly in dollars, for along with the generous financial support that she and her husband Morris have provided the music, theatre, dance, and visual arts groups in Regina, she has lent a distinctive, a near-regal public profile to those worthy pursuits, one of grace and elegance, of style and sophistication – most importantly, one of warmth and sincerity.”

The name Shumiatcher has real resonance in Regina, particularly in the arts world. Think Shumiatcher Lobby and Shumiatcher Sandbox Series at the Globe Theatre, the Shumiatcher Theatre (affectionately known as the “Shu-Box”) at the University of Regina’s Riddell Centre, the Jacqui Shumiatcher Room at the Centre of the Arts, the Shumiatcher Theatre and Shumiatcher Sculpture Court at the MacKenzie Art Gallery (which also now owns a considerable chunk of the Shumiatchers’ personal collection of Inuit sculptures), the Regina Symphony Orchestra’s “Shumiatcher Pops” series. And those are just the most obvious examples.

In fact, the name Shumiatcher is on more artistic sites and events than any other in Regina – a fact that Jacqui Shumiatcher says always surprises her. There was certainly no plan or even an intention to commemorate the name, she says. “No, it was done piecemeal. I was completely unaware of how many there were until someone mentioned it. But it’s very much a tribute to Morris. He had very wide interests – he loved art in all its forms.”

If Jacqui is, as some of her admirers have claimed, a force of nature, her husband was even more so. “Shumie,” as friend and foe called him, was a formidable lawyer who came to Saskatchewan from Calgary as a young man to work for the CCF government under Tommy Douglas and, among other achievements, authored Canada’s first bill of rights. He died in 2004, after years with a high profile private practice. As a couple – they married in 1955 – the Shumiatchers became generous, thoughtful leaders of the Regina arts world; on her own, Jacqui has continued the tradition.

Her husband, she says, had always loved the arts – as a child in Calgary, he played violin in a junior symphony orchestra; later, he tried his hand at painting and became a celebrated collector, starting with Oriental art during a stay in Japan. “He constantly was buying art as we could afford it. He was president of MacKenzie Art Gallery, you know.”

In addition to the contributions of bricks and mortar and backing for events that carry the Shumiatcher name, there’s also been large donations to the restoration of the Government House conservatory, underwriting of tickets for teenagers to the Lieutenant Governor’ Centennial Gala, and support for individual exhibits at the MacKenzie, like the French Realist masterpieces show in 2005.

But that’s just scratching the surface. Regina Little Theater, Prairie Opera, Saskatchewan Opera, Lyric Light Opera, Juventus Choir, Hectic Theatre, the Youth Ballet Company, New Dance Horizons…they’ve all been beneficiaries of the legendary Shumiatcher generosity. As have many others.

How does she decide what to support?

“I look at each one separately,” Shumiatcher says. “I’m always impressed by the hard work some groups do, and by the passion of the artists. That’s what gets to me most. I appreciate the dedication of people – it’s an emotional response.”

Although the Shumiatcher generosity extends to a wide range of charitable causes – a cool $100,000 for the Regina YWCA’s capital campaign a few years ago, for example – she has a special place in her heart for the arts. “Many people will give to health (charities), but not necessarily to the arts,” she observes. “They don’t see the effect of the arts, they don’t value it because so much of it is free. People tend to take art for granted.”

Not Jacqui Shumiatcher.

In recognition of her support over the years, the Regina Symphony Orchestra gave her a special 80th birthday present in 2003, mounting a concert of big-band music, from Benny Goodman to Glenn Miller to Duke Ellington, a personal favourite of the birthday girl’s – she just happens to share a birth date (April 29) with him.

Shumiatcher’s 80th also was the occasion for glowing letters from then-Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson and federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, lauding her generosity and civic-mindedness, as well as remarks by then-Premier Lorne Calvert, who called her “a model of citizenship.” And that same year, she was one of the finalists in a Leader Post Valentine’s Day contest to pick the “hottest women” in Regina.

Leader Post columnist Bob Hughes, waxing poetic in a tribute to Shumiatcher on that milestone birthday, noted she “has always been there to step forward when needed. The smile. The stars in her eyes. Her beauty. The grace with which she carries herself…. But it has been her sense of humanity and charity that have really touched this city in a lasting way. It would not be far off the mark to call Jacqui Shumiatcher the Mother of Regina's arts community.”

The honours are seemingly countless, and include the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (the province’s highest award), an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Regina, and being named CTV’s Citizen of the Year and a YWCA’s Woman of Distinction. She’s even an honorary member of Canadian Actors' Equity Association, awarded for her outstanding services to the theatre and the performing arts in Canada.

Born in France, her first language was French, but her British dad brought the small family (her brother is three years older) to Canada and Regina in 1927, when she was 4. The city still had dirt roads and wooden sidewalks, she recalls, and no plumbing, at least not in their North Central neighbourhood. She attended Kitchener and Scott schools, but didn’t go beyond high school.

Her father worked for General Motors for a while, then was a bank clerk. In neither job did he get rich. “We couldn’t afford much,” Shumiatcher recalls. “We couldn’t afford streetcars, so we walked everywhere” – which may just explain why, at 85, she remains slim and fit-looking. “We couldn’t afford a phone, but we did have a radio, even though in those days, there was a radio tax. We certainly couldn’t afford things like the symphony. Still, we never realized we were poor.”

Her grandparents were educated people who appreciated books and art, so she was exposed to both as a child. And her love of art blossomed, and continued to after her marriage.

Nor is she the sort of art patron who merely donates money and goes to events – as if that wasn’t plenty. Over the years, she’s rolled up her sleeves and gotten her hands dirty, serving on countless boards and committees. She’s even found time to be a docent for the MacKenzie Art Gallery, lecturing to Regina school children on the French Impressionists and Inuit art.

At 85, she admits she’s slowing down a bit, but just a bit. “I get asked to do things all the time. I feel a sense of obligation – the community gives us our livelihood, and you have to give back – it’s a small enough thing to do.”

But how does she cram so much activity into a day?

“Oh, I get up at 5, go to bed at 10, 11, 12…,” she says with a dismissive shrug.

She pauses, and swings her arm in a gesture that takes in a broad sweep of the comfortable home she still lives in. It’s crammed with art of all type, much of it by personal friends, like a birthday card painted by Ken Lochhead, one of the Regina Five. Adorning a piano nearby is a photo of a slim young Jacqui astride her brother’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle, leather helmet atop her russet tresses,

“I try to maintain a positive attitude.”

One thing that ruffles that attitude is negativity about art. The interview for this profile took place during the recent federal election campaign, when cuts to arts spending by the Conservative government had emerged as an issue.

“The arts funding cuts are criminal,” she says, her voice growing angry. “It’s very narrow minded. It shows that they (the politicians behind the cuts) have something lacking. The value of art is tremendous. Without art, life would be very poor. A place without art is a place without a soul.”

Part 4 of a 5 part series commissioned by the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance.

© For permission to reprint this article please contact the SAA.