Festival artistic director receives national arts leadership award

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Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of the Stratford Festival. (File photo)

A national charity dedicated to promoting a stronger relationship between Canada’s business and arts sectors announced Monday that Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino is this year’s recipient of its Peter Herrndorf Arts Leadership Award.

Business / Arts – a charity that has invested almost $30 million into Canada’s cultural sector – said Cimolino’s recognition was for his 32 years with the Stratford Festival and his “tireless” championing of the arts, both nationally and internationally. Selected by a jury of peers, the award is given annually to an “arts leader” who has shown an abiding commitment to foster Canadian arts through building partnerships between artists, the media, business leaders and the public sector.

“We could not be more thrilled to name Antoni as this year’s recipients of our Arts Leadership Award,” said Robert Foster, the chair of Business / Arts, in a release. “He is one of Canada’s most dynamic and visionary leaders who truly embodies our mission of partnership and collaboration.

“We can think of no one more deserving of this award.”

Since beginning as an actor with the Stratford Festival in 1988, Cimolino had had a tremendous impact on the organization. Moving quickly into directing, Cimolino also assumed “key leadership roles,” serving as the Festival’s general manager, executive director, general director and, ultimately, artistic director.

“In each of these capacities, he has had a transformative effect,” the release stated.

Among Cimolino’s earliest accomplishments was the extensive renovation of the Festival’s Avon Theatre and the creation of its Studio Theatre in 2002. This was soon followed by the creation of an endowment foundation, which currently stands at $81 million, to buttress the long-term stability of the Festival. The fund also supports such unique artist-development programs as the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction, which benefit the cultural life of the country as a whole, the release said.

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Among Cimolino’s more recent accomplishments was the 2013 creation of the Stratford Festival Forum, a season-long program of panel discussions, special performances and celebrates speakers intended to complement and explore the themes of that year’s productions. In that same year, Cimolino also founded the Laboratory, a space for “creative research and development” with a more experimental direction intended to explore “new perspectives” through collaboration with other performing artists.

Cimolino was also one of the architects of the Festival’s HD film series, an ambitious 10-year project to film the entire Shakespearean canon for theatrical and home video release.

“Antoni has consistently championed Canadian artists,” said Sylvia Chrominska, chair of the Stratford Festival’s board of governors, in a release. “He has actively promoted diversity and gender parity; he has introduced a myriad of training opportunities for emerging artists; and he has forged partnerships with artists and arts organizations from coast to coast to coast.”

In 2018, the Festival launched its most recent project, a campaign to replace its aging Tom Patterson Theatre with a breathtaking new facility. The campaign to build the space and support its operations has already reached more than $88 million of its $100-million goal, including grants of $20 million each from the provincial and federal governments, which Cimolino played a central role in securing.

But Cimolino’s dedication to Canada’s vibrant cultural life extends beyond the confines of the Stratford Festival. Building on his conviction that arts should play a defining role in our society, Cimolino was one of the founders of Culture Days, a nationwide celebration of arts and culture. He has also maintained strong collaborative bonds with other cultural institutions across Canada and internationally, including Ottawa’s National Arts Centre and New York’s Lincoln Centre and City Centre.

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In 2016, he worked with Qaggiavuut, an Iqaluit-based organization of Indigenous performing arts on the development of The Breathing Hole, a production that also included an education outreach program with Dare Arts to work with students in remote First Nations communities. In 2012, Cimolino was honoured by the Dalvadoran government for his collaboration with CUSO to create Es Artes, a theatre school that, since 2007, has taught at-risk youth in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

“Antoni’s leadership has boosted the fortunes of the Stratford Festival while positively impacting the broader artistic community across the country. The artistic landscape in Canada is stronger for Antoni’s presence in it,” said Dr. M. Lee Myers, a former chair of the Festival’s board of governors The Peter Herrndorf Arts Leadership Award will be presented at the Business / Arts Annual Gala, taking place on Nov. 7 at Meridian Hall, formerly the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, in Toronto. Previous recipients of the award include ballerina Karen Kain, Toronto International Film Festival CEO Piers Handling, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts curator Nathalie Bondil.

“I’ve been so lucky – first, to have been born in Canada, home to a vibrant arts scene, and then to have grown up to work alongside so many extraordinary artists, staff and volunteers at the Stratford Festival and beyond,” said Cimolino. “This award from my peers means so much. It has been a pleasure and a gift to me to make a contribution to the arts in Canada.

“And it’s very moving to have it recognized.”


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