Walter Carsen, the visionary philanthropist whose generosity was an animating force in the arts over the past several decades, most especially in Toronto, died on Monday, October 8, in his one hundredth year.
I met Walter in 1991, shortly after returning to Toronto after a decade spent dancing in New York. Walter was an ardent supporter of Canada’s National Ballet School, where I had recently become a teacher and had access to rehearsal space for my solo repertoire. Walter was escorted into the Betty Oliphant Theatre, we were introduced, he offered me a gift (two beautiful Japanese rice bowls wrapped in a piece of cloth), and told me how eager he was to watch me at work. He sat quietly, and keenly focused, while I worked my way through the challenges and complications of a Molissa Fenley dance for the next hour, and then we sat together and talked.
The next year I was appointed Walter Carsen Artist-in-Residence at NBS. I will never forget being delivered a copy of the receipt from a New York auction house detailing the sale of a Chagall watercolour by Walter, the proceeds of which were being used to fund the first years of my position. Walter continued to transform his wealth into dances, lifetime achievement prizes for the performing arts, and cultural spaces until his death. We have lost a magnificent man, but his gifts go on and on.
2012 marks Peggy Baker 20th year as Artist-in-Residence at Canada’s National Ballet School.