Constance Pathy - Master Volunteer Receives 'Sweet' Award for Lifetime of Service to the Arts by Danielle Dubois
/ November 29, 2004
asked how it feels to have received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for
Voluntarism in the Performing Arts from the hands of Governor-General Adrienne
Clarkson herself, Constance Pathy cannot hide her emotion: "It's very, very sweet
to receive recognition." Indeed, such
tributes are rare in the volunteerism business, where dollars, and not honours,
are the most sought-after targets. Yet, despite being well-known and respected
for her leadership abilities, Pathy has managed to keep a relatively low
profile. For her, it is has never been about seeking honours, but rather about
exploring another side of life – a side she feels is too often
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Pathy studied
international law before coming to Canada in 1960. Before long she had become a
handmaiden to arts organizations across the country. "I drifted into it.
Organizations had previously been subsidized to a better level, but money became
short, and help was needed." Pathy heeded this call for help, all the while
pursuing her own musical inclinations. After earning performance degrees in
cello and viola da gamba from McGill, she performed with ensembles such as the
Quatuor Morency and Le Consort Royall.
Her motivation to persevere as a volunteer stems in
part from a desire to live and breathe the arts. "It's very important for me to
live in a city where there is an orchestra, an opera company, a ballet company,
and chamber music," explains the native of The Hague. "I firmly believe you
can't live on bread alone."
Upon arriving in her country of adoption, Pathy was
struck to observe that the arts were often perceived by Canadians as a frill
reserved for a select few who had the luxury, time, inclination, and money to
indulge in them. This attitude marked a strong contrast with the European
mentality she was used to, where the arts were considered much more a part of
daily life. Since then, Pathy has been striving to fill an apparent void and
make the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of their background. "There
isn't much exposure to the arts in school. Where is the next generation's
appreciation of the arts supposed to come from?" asks a concerned Pathy.
A dynamic presence for over forty years
One of Pathy's long-time commitments has been to
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, an organization of which she has been the
president for the past fifteen years. "I am very proud of Les Grands Ballets,
whose quality has improved greatly," says Pathy, who has sat on the board since
1978. Michel Labonté, Senior Vice-president of Finance, Technology and Corporate
Affairs at Les Grands Ballets, is quick to credit her with much of the progress
that has been made. "She is very modern in her approach to the arts and to
ballet specifically," notes Labonté, who has known Pathy for 12 years. "She has
clear views on where the company should be headed, and is instrumental in making
sure that the chemistry works well." One of Pathy's major contributions was
securing artistic leadership for the company, which, until the appointment of
Lawrence Rhodes in 1989, was without an artistic director. This kind of
long-term vision is also what prompted Pathy to establish an endowment fund for
the company. "My ideal is to bring these organizations to the foreground and to
have them flourish," explains the philanthropist.
If the enthusiasm generated by the Ladies' Morning
Musical Club, Montreal's oldest chamber music society, and Brome Beaux Arts –
two organizations Pathy has long held under her wing – is of any indication, it
would seem that she is successful in achieving her aims. The latter, an
organization which Pathy founded in 1978, is now in its 27th season
of providing free chamber music concerts as a public service. Gone are the days
when music and the arts were no more than a frill reserved for a select few. The
ultimate fulfillment, Pathy contends, comes when she sees devotees of Brome
Beaux Arts making the trek to Montreal in order to attend concerts.
Yet such gratification is not always easy to come
by. "We're always short of money," sighs Pathy as she comments on the daily
struggle posed by fundraising, that inescapable reality of the arts world. "Big
organizations need a lot of funding. We need more support from the federal
government," affirms Pathy, who also hopes the Governor General's award will be
an additional feather in her cap to help tip the balance in her favour when she
goes knocking on doors.
This type of work has become second nature to
Pathy, who remembers being asked years ago to raise a small sum of money for a
minor project. "I responded by saying, 'I don't do funding'," chuckles Pathy.
Since that day, she has had ample opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade.
While Pathy is far from seeing an end to her involvement with the arts, she
remains sensitive to the problem of continuity, something often lacking in
non-profit organizations, as Labonté points out. Undeniably, people capable of
sustaining this form of commitment – "crazy, exceptional cases" to use Pathy's
own words – do not grow on trees. "I say I'm going to die with my boots on, but
you need to have succession," acknowledges Pathy, who is constantly on the
lookout for potential candidates.
For the time being, there is no shortage of work to
be done. The 2006-07 season will see Les Grands Ballets Canadiens celebrating
its 50th, while 2007 marks the 100th year of the Canadian
Guild of Crafts, another organization which benefits from Pathy's guidance.
These are, to be sure, milestones for some of the organizations comprising
Canada's arts scene, a scene she describes as developing. "Marvelous things are
happening," says the optimistic volunteer. "I get my satisfaction from seeing
organizations grow and develop and achieve excellence." This road to excellence
is one often paved with the selfless labour of volunteers like Pathy.