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Connecting Queen's and the community

[Isabel Concert Hall]
With support from the Ballytobin Foundation local groups recieve support to perform at the concert hall of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (University Communications) 

On a balmy spring evening, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts came alive to the timeless strains of 18th-century European composers, and a much more recent suite by local composer John Palmer. The players, members of Orchestra Kingston and the Kingston Community Strings, allowed their surroundings to inspire them, and the audience felt it. The spontaneous standing ovation that erupted at the end of the performance was, as one audience member put it, “well deserved and heartfelt.”

This magical moment was not just a connection between performer and audience, it was also a connection between university and community. And it would not have been possible without the Ballytobin Foundation.

A private foundation created by Joan and the late Brian Tobin in 1992 to support arts and culture in Ontario, the Ballytobin Foundation found a new purpose when The Isabel opened in 2014. The newly-reimagined foundation now makes it possible for local groups to play at the lakeside concert hall by subsidizing a portion of their rental costs. 

“Anyone who knows anything about the Kingston music and theatre scene knows that the best venues are now at The Isabel,” says John Burge, Director of Music at the Dan School of Drama and Music and a composer whose own works have been featured on The Isabel’s stage. “The grants from the Ballytobin Foundation mean local groups can perform in a hall that has wonderful acoustics, great equipment, and where audiences love to come. It is a superb opportunity.”

“A performing arts centre has its own soul, and this soul thrives when there is broad participation by artists and the community,” says Tricia Baldwin, The Isabel’s Artistic Director. 

That broad participation has included performances by the Kingston Chamber Choir, Kingston Brassworks, and the Kingston Community Orchestra, among others. In early November, 17 local choirs and more than 800 performers converged on The Isabel for Choralpalooza. All of these concerts were made possible by the Ballytobin Foundation, but Dr. Burge believes they are just a beginning. 

“Joan’s vision was very specific, but also flexible enough that as long as there is artistic value in what is being presented, and as long as it is being driven by someone in the community, it will get funding,” he says. “New initiatives and innovation and things that are being tried for the first time will be looked at favourably, because that is what this kind of fund should do.”

“She has nourished the virtuous circle of the artistic experience that gives so much to both performers and audiences,” Ms. Baldwin says. 

That circle has been good for both Queen’s and the city it calls home. 

“Joan saw the concert hall as an opportunity to be larger than just a university-focused venue,” says Dr. Burge. “She understood that the arts is a great medium for breaking down barriers. Bringing community groups into what is, in a sense, a university building really helps to connect the university with the Kingston community. Borders never matter when you’re talking about the arts.” 

To learn more about the Ballytobin Foundation, including upcoming application deadlines, please visit ballytobin.com.