Aaron Milrad, a prolific art collector and philanthropist, has been supporting the arts and the artists of Toronto Outdoor Art Fair for over forty years now.
Mr. Milrad awards $3,000 towards the Best of Ceramics Award, but his support of the artists goes beyond financial contribution. He is truly invested in nurturing a deep understanding and connection to the artists and their works, and has established a special ritual to do just that; every year, he invites the winning artist for a tour of his extensive ceramics collection, followed by a lunch discussing the commission of an art piece or an addition to the collection.
Interview with Aaron Milrad
You have been supporting the Best of Ceramics award for over 40 years. Why is this award, and ceramics as a craft, important to you?
Ceramics is a craft that goes back to human prehistory. As we continue to discover the presence of humans by finding shards, pots, and other ceramic vessels and products which enable us to gather an understanding of prehistorical peoples and how clay was used.
Ceramics really encompass all the major elements of life – of earth, water, air and fire. People who are involved in ceramics understand that it is more than a craft. It is a part of life, history and civilization and also as part of the maker.
There is a direct connection between the artist and the material in the making of the ceramic objects, the human hand and “touch”. It brings the maker into direct contact with the history of life and the firing of the work brings out the risk and the reward to the maker and to the audience. Without knowing in advance the results of the making of the object. There is an element of a higher “hand” involved that goes back to a spiritual input. If one were religious it could be like a religious experience.
The 1970 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition opening ceremonies included Mayor David Crombie, Federal Cabinet Minister John Roberts, Murray Koffler and a group of dedicated supporters including Aaron Milrad (foreground, front row), Pat Fleisher, Hilda Wilson, Elizabeth Kilbourn, Ernie Herzig, Kay Kritzweiser, John Downing, Issy Sharp, Marvin Gelber, Edie Frankel, David Silcox, Sonja Bata, Brigid O’Reilly, and John Band.
How have you seen the Fair change and grow over the last several decades?
The fair over the past number of years has matured. It has been accepted as important and has given rise to an opportunity for numerous artists to put their wares on display and earn some money and some reputation. More and better artists and “art products” are available and the audience itself has become a more sophisticated one recognizing the improved quality of the works available for sale. It’s a wonderful “art meeting place”.
The winner of the Best of Ceramics Award is also awarded a purchase award from yourself. How was your experience meeting 2018’s winner, Joon Hee Kim?
Meeting Joon Hee Kim was a mutual present and an educational experience. I was so pleased to be able to meet with her and spend time with her at my office and then have lunch to discuss the art world and ceramics in particular. She is now a friend. The piece I purchased was one that was on display at the fair and sits in my personal office.
Why is philanthropy important to you?
Art philanthropy is important to me because it is giving back to the people who give so much and are paid so little and contribute so much to the quality of life. They are often the forgotten ones in their lifetime with the benefits later, if any, being passed to the collectors and heirs. Yet in spite of that, there is a true calling for the artists to create and share their creations and inventiveness with all of us.
What encouragement would you give to those who have not yet been patrons to the arts?
Without the arts, the city would be only a place to live. People come to Toronto because of the quality of life. What that really means is the opportunity to participate in and share theatre, dance, music and other arts that make life more enjoyable and add to experiences and education of the recipients, be they children or adults. Life is more than just the stock exchange. Sadly governments have higher priorities in their view and need to deal with crisis and unforeseen difficulties. Often times the arts are the forgotten part of a budget. We must support those that give so much and get back so little financially in return.
A letter of gratitude to Aaron Milrad from Best of Ceramics 2018 Award Winner, Joon Hee Kim
Excerpts from “TOAE: Its History from 1961 to 2007”, by Lawyer Aaron Milrad, Honorary Director
“… I remember attending the first exhibitions at the Four Seasons Motel on Jarvis Street and thought what a good idea this was for the younger and for under-appreciated artists.
My enthusiasm for the exhibition led me to agree to sponsor the Ceramics Award, later the Mixed Media Award and again back to the Ceramics Award. I was especially interested in ceramics because that was the collecting area that was important to me and led to my involvement with the George Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto, later sitting on their Board and becoming Chair of the Museum.
I continued my Ceramics Award over the years and I added a purchase award to it plus that the winning artist would have lunch with me and a tour of my collection at our law offices. That way it gave me an added dimension to personalize the award and attach a human person and face to it, both for me and the artist.”