Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino to receive Peter Herrndorf Arts Leadership Award

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Business / Arts, a national charity that shows the power in partnership between business and arts to strengthen Canada’s arts sector, is thrilled to announce Antoni Cimolino C.M. as this year’s recipient of the Peter Herrndorf Arts Leadership Award.

Selected by a jury of peers, this award is given to an arts leader who has spent a lifetime dedicated to fostering the arts in Canada by building partnerships with artists, media, business leaders and public sector officials. For Cimolino, this award is in recognition of his 32 years at the Stratford Festival, as well as his role as a tireless champion of the arts nationally and internationally. Previous recipients include Karen Kain C.C., Piers Handling O.C. and Nathalie Bondil C.M. 

“We could not be more thrilled to name Antoni as this year’s recipient of our Arts Leadership award,” said Robert Foster, Chair, Business / Arts. “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.”

“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.”

“Antoni has consistently championed Canadian artists,” said Sylvia Chrominska, Chair of the Stratford Festival’s Board of Governors. “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.”

Beginning as an actor with the Stratford Festival in 1988, Cimolino moved quickly into directing and then took on key leadership roles, serving as general manager, executive director, general director and now artistic director. In each of these capacities, he has had a transformative effect.

Among his earliest accomplishments was the extensive renovation of the Festival’s Avon Theatre and the creation of its Studio Theatre in 2002. This was followed by the establishment of an endowment foundation, which currently stands at $81 million, to help support the long-term stability of the Festival, along with such unique artist-development programs as the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction, programs that benefit not just the Festival but the cultural life of the country as a whole.

In 2013, he created the Stratford Festival Forum, a season-long program of celebrated speakers, panel discussions and special performances that explore ideas arising from the works on stage and relate them to the events and issues of today. Many of these events are live-streamed and broadcast nationally through a partnership with CBC's Ideas program.

Also during that year, he created the Laboratory, a space for creative research and development with an experimental mandate, aimed at exploring new perspectives through a mutual exchange with others in the performing arts industry.

In 2018 the Festival embarked on a project to replace its Tom Patterson Theatre with a spectacular 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.

Building on his belief that arts should play a central role in society, Cimolino was key to the founding of Culture Days, Canada’s nationwide celebration of arts and culture, which this year will celebrate its 10-year anniversary. And, he sought to make the Festival's work available to global audiences through an ambitious 10-year project to film all of Shakespeare's plays. With 12 productions already released, the films have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people at screenings internationally and on CBC, and are creating an unparalleled educational resource. 

Throughout his career, Cimolino has been dedicated to maintaining strong collaborative bonds with other cultural institutions across Canada and internationally, among them Ottawa's National Arts Centre and New York's Lincoln Center and City Center. In 2016, he collaborated with Qaggiavuut, an Iqaluit-based organization of Indigenous performing artists, on the development of The Breathing Hole. That production also included an educational outreach program in association with Dare Arts, working with students in remote First Nations communities.  In 2012 he was honoured by the Salvadoran government for his work, in partnership with CUSO, to establish Es Artes, a theatre school which, since 2007, has had tremendous success in teaching 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, former Chair of the Festival’s Board of Governors

The Peter Herrndorf Arts Leadership Award will be presented at Business / Arts Annual Gala, taking place on November 7 at Meridian Hall (formerly Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) in Toronto.

Photo: Antoni Cimolino.