Conjure up “library” in your mind’s eye.
“It’s a black-tie gala that celebrates all things to do with the book,” said Gillian Smith, chair of the foundation’s board. “It’s the major high-profile fundraiser for the Toronto Public Library Foundation.
“All of that money is then used in support of library programs and services. [It’s] a great way for Torontonians who care about the health and vitality of their library to support it.”
Last year’s event raised $530,000 for the Foundation.
Every year the ball attracts a gamut of literary stars, industry people of import and other VIPs. This year’s ticket holders have a chance to be seated with the likes of former federal Liberal party head Michael Ignatieff, ex-Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment CEO Richard Peddie and The Cellist of Sarajevo author Stephen Galloway.
The premise of the Book Lover’s Ball is to raise funds through sponsored silent auctions, an adopt-a-branch program, and a $750-dollar-a-seat ticket or $10,000 premium table fee to dine with literary celebrities and watch performance artists dramatize scenes from selected works of literature.
“I sit down with my creative team to brainstorm how we bring them to life,” event planner Hala Bissada wrote in an email. “We want an edgy, sexy and surprising show, and for each segment to be very different. We use music, lighting and a variety of entertainment (singing, dancing, fashion, et cetera) to ensure this happens.”
To help hype the event, Sun Life Financial sponsored a contest where contestants re-wrote a favourite piece of literature in their own voice on the cup sleeves at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.
“The contest has been very successful,” Bissada said. “There have been 408 entries. This is an incredible response rate … but what we find is that the people who follow the Toronto Public Library Foundation are really committed to both the Foundation and the library [system].”
The Toronto Public Library operates nearly 100 branches and ranks among the busiest library systems in the world. Budgetary pressure from City Hall has underlined the importance of the Foundation’s additional fundraising.
“First and foremost the library is supported by all Torontoanians through the city municipal tax base,” Smith said. “It’s our job to think of who in the private realm might be interested in funding these initiatives and connect the dots.”
Fundraising events like the Book Lover’s Ball help community programs across Toronto, Smith said.
“The Ready for Reading program [is] a really great program that fosters early literacy,” Smith said. “We were able to support an outreach strategy so that a library staff person would be able to work in higher-need communities.
“That’s just an example of how the library, with public support, is able to create a great program vital to Torontonians. But through the support of the Foundation and its private donations, we are able to extend the reach of that program right across the city.”