A big-hearted man
During its 2022 season, the Festival de Lanaudière had the great honour of presenting four concerts by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in an exclusive North American appearance. Two of these concerts took place thanks to the support of two generous donors: the Fondation Pierre Desmarais Belvédère and the Fondation Stéfane Foumy.
Mr. Pierre R. Desmarais, the founder and President since 2004 of the Fondation Pierre Desmarais Belvédère, kindly agreed to share with us his motivations for contributing to this fine Festival project. A member of the Festival de Lanaudière’s Board of Directors for eight years, including three as Vice President, Mr. Desmarais has also served as a board member with several other organizations, including the Théâtre du Rideau Vert, the Conseil des Arts de Montréal and the Montreal Baroque Festival.
In 1960, he founded the enterprise Éditions Belvédère Enr., which sold and distributed greeting cards throughout Canada. In 1970, the company added to its operations the exclusive representation of educational toys designed and manufactured in Europe. In 1971, the company, by this time Pierre Belvédère Inc., attained its first million dollars in sales. In the 1980s, the firm was recognized throughout the country as a leader in superior correspondence stationery and high-end toys. In late 1994, Mr. Demarais sold his business, whose annual revenues exceeded 12 million at that time.
The following is an interview with this great enthusiast of culture and philanthropy.
What motivated you to become involved with the Festival?
I have always had a keen interest in classical music and had attended many concerts at the Festival de Lanaudière. Eventually, Me Claude-Armand Sheppard, who was then President of the Festival’s Board of Directors, suggested I join the Board as a member. Since then, the Festival has been a part of my DNA! I am proud that its Board members have supported the Festival’s vocation for so many years, in deference to its founder, Father Fernand Lindsay.
How would you describe the Festival de Lanaudière to someone who has never attended?
It is the largest classical music festival in Canada. For 45 years, the Festival has fulfilled its primary mission: to bring people together from far and wide to enjoy classical music, and to celebrate this art in communion with the Other and with Nature. The Festival draws a large public to the enchanting setting of the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay and offers high-quality programming. A Festival de Lanaudière concert is a balm for the soul.
You are an ardent promoter of cultural philanthropy. What sparked your interest in this matter?
I have worked all my life in business, promoting beauty, not least through those greeting cards that made my company well known throughout all of Canada. For me, supporting cultural organizations is essentially an extension of my work
I also started my foundation 17 years ago because I wanted to give it my intended direction while I was still active. I hope that these same objectives will be maintained when I am no longer present.
One small anecdote: I recently came across my first will from 1980, which stated that part of my legacy was to be donated to a foundation for the arts. Evidently, cultural philanthropy has been important to me for a long time!
Why is it important to give to culture?
Personally, I believe it is important to give within our means to the causes that matter to us. There is a misunderstanding regarding philanthropy, which is often thought to be reserved for a financial elite. However, every contribution, even a modest one, can make all the difference for an organization!
In Canada and in Quebec, unlike in the United States, for instance, we are fortunate that culture is generously supported by public funds because it is an area often overlooked in terms of philanthropy. Nevertheless, as in all industries, a balance between revenue sources is ideal for ensuring the sustainability of cultural organizations like the Festival, and that is why they must seek a balance between their government funding, ticket sales and private support.
You generously contributed to the appearance of Les Arts Florissants at the Festival this summer. Why did this project resonate with you?
As my interest in classical music grew, I discovered Baroque music via recordings by Les Arts Florissants that were often aired on the radio. Therefore, when 2020 rolled around I was very excited that this ensemble was coming to the Festival. I decided that I had to be part of this very fine project: it’s a great achievement in my life!
After several pandemic-related setbacks, two years later, I was especially delighted to finally savour those moments along with a very enthusiastic audience!
Thank you to Mr. Pierre Desmarais for your involvement in the Festival de Lanaudière!