Art collectors, philanthropists and long-time donors of the National Gallery of Canada came together Wednesday to honour Thomas d'Aquino, a man who's helped to raise tens of millions of dollars for the national art institution while increasing its breadth of support.
The business leader has for years devoted his time, energy and money into building the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) Foundation into what it is today. His involvement spanned a quarter of a century, to include 18 years as board chair, beginning in 2002. "It's been a blast," he told OBJ.social of the experience at a black-tie gala that had been waiting to happen once the worst of the pandemic was behind us.
D'Aquino became a founding director of the national gallery's foundation at a time when people weren't giving privately to the art institution. He and the board had to come up with innovative ways to create support for the gallery.
NGC Foundation board chair Ann Bowman compared d'Aquino's contributions to taking a startup organization and helping it to thrive. "He brought both vision and incredible entrepreneurial enthusiasm and kickstarted a number of new fundraising initiatives,” said Bowman, vice chair of enterprise strategic client group of RBC.
“All of us who worked with Tom know his formidable capacity for persuasion. He combined that talent with a call for individuals to link together in a national network of philanthropy and champions of Canadian art.”
D’Aquino founded the NGC Foundation’s Distinguished Patrons community of philanthropists who have contributed at least $100,000 to the gallery. It has grown to include nearly 100 families. The highly connected businessman also helped to facilitate and secure the unprecedented gift of $10 million made by Scotiabank to support the gallery’s new photography institute. At the dinner was Brian Porter, CEO of Scotiabank, with his wife, Megan Porter.
D’Aquino is credited with, among other things, helping to bring Joe Fafard’s Running Horses sculpture to the NGC, where it almost seems to gallop along Sussex Drive. He helped to fundraise $70 million in financial gifts, and worked closely with the gallery to facilitate the donation of works of art valued, at the time of giving, at $65 million.
The gala began with a Chair’s Reception at the National Gallery. It included a tour of the Canada and Impressionism: New Horizons exhibit led by senior curator Katerina Atanassova. The exhibit features more than 100 works of art by 36 artists, drawn from private, public and corporate collections. The exhibit received critical acclaim while touring in France, Switzerland and Germany.
Guests next headed for the gallery's Scotiabank Great Hall for a larger reception catered by Thyme & Again. The crowd listened to an opening blessing from Elder Verna McGregor, an official welcoming from NGC director and CEO Sasha Suda, insight into the Canada and Impressionism exhibit from Atanassova, and brief remarks from NGC board chair Françoise Lyon and NGC Foundation executive director Lisa Turcotte.
Then, it was off to the Fairmont Château Laurier for the nearly 200-person dinner honouring d’Aquino, chair emeritus of the foundation. He was joined at his dinner table by his wife, Susan Peterson d’Aquino, and their guests, former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark and Maureen McTeer; former governor general David Johnston and Sharon Johnston; and retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin and Frank McArdle.
Guests included Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, KPMG managing partner Andrew Newman, RBC regional president Marjolaine Hudan and BMO regional president Vittorio (Victor) Pellegrino and his team, NGC Foundation board member Paul Genest from Power Corporation of Canada. Also seen were the National Arts Centre's CEO, Christopher Deacon, board chair Adrian Burns and NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson, long-time arts patron Jean Teron, and Scott Patles-Richardson, founder of Indigenous Financial Solutions, with his colleague, former Olympic athlete Waneek Horn-Miller.
Ann Bowman spoke at the dinner about how she admired d'Aquino's “irrepressible optimism, onward and upward attitude, integrity and wise counsel” as she led the room of about 200 guests in a toast to “his remarkable contributions”.
Tributes were also delivered by art collector, philanthropist and developer Michael Audain, who is a former board chair of the NGC, and by NGC Foundation board member Michael Adams.
“Those of you who know Tom know that he is a hard guy to say ‘No’ to,” said Adams, senior strategic advisor with Cistel Technologies in Ottawa. “Tom’s leadership style is always clear, direct and strong and also collaborative and respectful.”
D’Aquino is the chair and chief executive of Intercounsel, a private venture development and strategic consulting company. He's also former long-time CEO of the Business Council of Canada (formerly known as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives).
Foundation board members, past and present, were invited on stage for a special presentation of gifts. The man of the hour was toasted again, this time by NGC Foundation board member Ash Prakash, a Toronto-based arts patron and scholar of Canadian art. Prakash described philanthropy as a calling that comes to some very easily, causing individuals to want to bring about change by devoting their lives to promoting a cause they believe in. “Such is the life my friend Tom has led.”
A good chunk of d'Aquino's remarks were devoted to thanking and recognizing individuals. “I would not be standing here tonight if not for a great number of people in this room,” he said.
The Order of Canada recipient made special mention of his wife while acknowledging her deep love of art and architecture. Susan Peterson d’Aquino, who’s president of Intercounsel, had a successful career working in the Privy Council Office, Department of Finance and Canadian Heritage.
“We love the gallery,” said d’Aquino. “It becomes embedded in your soul, it becomes part of who you are, and that means that you can never ever really leave the Nation Gallery of Canada. While I’m formally leaving, Susan and I will forever be strong supporters of this great institution.”