Relationship to the Arts: A life long love

What is your relationship with the arts? 

What started off as a simple donor thank you call, turned into an endearing story about one person and their life long love for the arts.  We asked Jerry Smith, “What is your relationship with the arts?”  His reply, It’s part of who I am. It’s part of how I define myself.

Jerry’s artistic journey started in grade school when his mother enrolled him into the oratorical contests, which according to Jerry, is “public speaking at its best of course”.  It was the closest he ever came to winning anything; he came in second, which was a bit heartbreaking because it was his younger sister who came in first.   Regardless, it sparked something that would result in a life long relationship with the arts.

“I was born and raised in Perth, in the Ottawa Valley, a beautiful town and I have very fond memories of that. But my mother had a drive for education and sent me to a boy’s boarding school in Kingston called Regiopolis College. I transferred to Regi in grade 10 after doing grade 9 at the local school in Perth. Off I went and that’s where I discovered the rest of the world. From a small town in Ontario to then being in classes with students from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, South America, etc.;  there were students there from Hungary who came to school out of the Hungarian Revolution. It was an intense introduction to how much bigger the world was compared to my hometown.”


“When I was there I became active in the drama club and performed in several productions. From there I went on to do my undergraduate at the University of Ottawa where I continued my interest in drama and theatre. I was actively involved in the Theatre Guild, becoming President as well as performing in and producing many shows.”


“By that time it really was part and parcel of me. Theatre was such an engaging process. I felt challenged, but I also had that sense of satisfaction of being able to understand another person through the role and to try to portray it through myself.”

Jerry next went on to Teachers College and then teaching at Ottawa’s High School of Commerce, which had a very strong music program.  Here he got to indulge his love of teaching and theatre.

“Another teacher from the music department and I decided to do a musical which was a great experience and provided a wonderful opportunity for collaboration within the arts.” 

“This was the beginning of a career combining education and the arts”.  For Jerry the relation between art and teaching only grew. He spent many years teaching both in Canada and abroad.   He even took some time to hone his craft as an actor. He completed a postgraduate certificate at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England; and then did a tour with a  Children’s Theater Company in the south of England. In the end he decided “the classroom was where I felt most engaged.

Jerry’s love of the arts influenced all aspects of his life but especially his role as a teacher. As we continue to struggle to make room in the school curriculum for the arts Jerry has turned his passion for theatre into advocacy. 

“It is our failure as an Arts Community to engage and gather support to advocate for the value of the arts in school; according to the Ontario Arts Council, 78% of Ontarians believe that making the arts available to the community is an important government investment and 79% of Ontarians believe that the arts are important to their mental health.”


“We have a lot more public support than we sometimes presume.  The moment when a government steps in and says,” we don’t have enough money we’re going to take the arts out of the curriculum,”  I think that is our opportunity to advocate – and our community missed that chance to challenge the government on that decision.”

So why should it be important to the arts community to ensure that the next generation has access to the arts?

“Working as a consultant, I was doing some research with a dance organisation, surveying their membership, audience and volunteer base.  A lot of the questions that we asked them were about, ‘what was your experience of arts practices as you were growing up?’ In the analysis that we did at the end, we saw that some of their very best board members and leaders in the organisation had in fact done dance as kids.” 


“If you don’t have access to arts at the beginning stages of your life, then it’s not going to be part and parcel of your potential muscle memory. Then it’s going to be harder to be engaged as you age.”


 “When an adult is engaged in an art form, as a participant, as a creator, as an audience, a supporter – it is going to be highly increased by the degree to which they were exposed and engaged in art as a child or as a young person.” 

As an arts community we need to ensure we are thinking beyond today and building opportunities for  future communities to be inspired and learn through the arts.  

Supporting the arts can look different. Jerry is an artist, teacher, volunteer, arts advocate, audience member and donor.  There are many ways to get involved in the arts and build a creative community for the future.  

After you ask yourself “what is my relationship with the arts?” The next question is “what relationship do I want the future generation to have with the arts and what can I do to make that happen?” 

See you out there! 

If you can, Donate Today!

Jerry smiling against a white background
Jerry smiling and laughing with a friend

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