Bluma Appel, philanthropist and patron of the arts, died last night in a Toronto hospital from complications of cancer. She was 86.
Her death comes as a sudden blow to the city and to her family; she was diagnosed with lung cancer only two months ago. Appel and her husband celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary last week.
Torontonians knew Appel as a passionate advocate for the arts and particularly for the theatre community, where she had a reputation for championing emerging talent, handing out grants to individual theatre artists and supporting the development of new and commercially risky plays. After she funded much of the renovations at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, its largest performance space was renamed after her.
Jacoba Knaapen, Executive Director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, remembers Bluma Appel as “a passionate supporter of the independent artist. An entire community has benefited from her tremendous philanthropy, and so many artists were touched by the good fortune of Bluma’s enthusiastic patronage of Canadian arts and culture.”
Bluma Appel also served as a board member of such cultural organizations as Canstage, the Canadian Opera Company, Opera Atelier and the ROM. In April this year, she was named Canadian of the year by the Canadian Club of Toronto. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001.
Aside from her work in the arts, Appel was also a tireless social activist, convincing each major Canadian bank to include a woman on its board of executives. She founded the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) in 1987, at a time when AIDS was a taboo subject from which many corporations distanced themselves.
Along with the passing of Ed Mirvish, it’s been a tough week for Toronto philanthropy. Torontoist imagines that Ed and Bluma are up on a cloud somewhere, waltzing to Noel Coward’s “Dance, Little Lady.”
Photo courtesy of Bruce Zinger for U of T Magazine.