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Board is all business as pressure to raise big bucks intensifies

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Give, get or get off.

This is the unofficial slogan of Canada's most prestigious and exclusive arts in-club: the board of directors of the Toronto International Film Festival.

And with a third of the $196-million fundraising target for the new festival headquarters outstanding, the pressure on board members to deliver has never been so intense.

With a record-setting contribution from Bell Canada (hence the subsequent renaming of festival hall as Bell Lightbox) and significant cash infusions from the provincial and federal levels of government, the board is now faced with the task of getting their high-flying colleagues and associates to pony up.

"We now have to turn it over to the community and say, 'Okay guys, now it's your turn,' " says Ian Bandeen, a five-year board member who sits on the finance committee and is also chief executive officer of Canadian Trading and Quotation System. "The final icing on the cake will be corporate and individual contributions."

The TIFF board is known for its tenacity, which separates it from more traditional, Canadian arts institutions.

"The film festival group is not an old-line arts organization, it's a relatively new confection," says Ron Moore, CEO of the communications firm Sonar and a veteran TIFF board member until his resignation this year.

"We never had old-school board members who inherited their membership from their fathers. These are people who know the value of a dollar. It's not a semi-honorary position, it's an active role."

Moore, who maintained his seat for an unprecedented 14 years, says the secret to his success was simple. "Every arts organization needs to survive and grow. And I'm not ashamed to ask for money."

This unapologetic bottom-line focus has resulted in a board composed mainly of hard-nosed CEOs and company presidents, including Michael MacMillan (executive chairman of Alliance Atlantis Communications), Warren Spitz (CEO of Upper Canada Forest Products) and Rajesh Subramaniam, a senior vice-president at Federal Express. One notable exception is filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who also joined the board this year.

Paul Atkinson, who was recently elected chairman after serving for the previous three, says the board's biggest success has been its ability to forge inroads both on Bay Street and in government. "The management [of the board] are incredibly results-oriented," he said. "If you work with them, you don't think of them as an arts management team - it's just a management team."

With an annual operating budget of $12-million and fundraising targets soaring into the hundreds of millions, it's little wonder the TIFF board needs corporate hustle.

"At the end of the day, this is the No. 1 cultural or sports event that is put on by our country, period," Bandeen asserts. "In the global context, there is nothing that challenges it. It is the single biggest event that defines Canada in the world."

It's an assertion that the troops in Afghanistan (not to mention the Vancouver Olympics committee) might dispute, but TIFF certainly has an international cachet that makes Canada's other arts institutions salivate with envy.

"Look at Toronto," says one former board member, on the condition his name not be used. "The orchestra is 10th-rate at best. No one's ever heard of the opera. Okay, there's the National Ballet. But what cultural organizations do we have that are recognized around the world other than the festival?"

It's no wonder TIFF is the sexiest arts board to be on in corporate Canada. How many volunteer positions come with the possible perk of entertaining Brangelina at your home? But idle social climbers need not apply. The turnover is high and results are expected. A third of the board's seats come up for renewal each year and the search for new talent, according to Atkinson, is "a constant cultivation process."

"We're a not-for-profit organization and everyone needs to contribute in any way they can," Atkinson says. "That's the culture. This is a leadership institution and that requires volunteer leadership."

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