Wednesday 29 March 1995
Dressed with faultless chic, she could persuade senior corporate executives that they actually wanted to give large sums for whatever project she was promoting, whether orchestra, ballet company or exhibition. In return, she delivered a cultural package and a sense of occasion that added prestige to the corporate image and superior entertainment to the public.
In the belief that Canadian art and artists should command international attention she was responsible, in 1972, for promoting the first visit to London by the National Ballet of Canada, at the London Coliseum, where their success greatly helped a subsequent tour on the Continent. She again promoted later visits by the company to the Coliseum in 1975 and in 1979 to the Royal Opera House, with another European tour in 1987.
She raised £30,000 from corporate sponsorship for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to appear in London at Sadler's Wells in 1982, then took the company on to Cyprus in aid of the Cyprus Red Cross, and to Cairo. Other endeavours brought the Montreal Symphony to London in 1976, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir to the Edinburgh Festival in 1980, the Toronto Symphony to London in 1983 and the first visit of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival company to the Old Vic in 1984. She received the Canada Medal in 1979.
Nor were her efforts all directed one way. After the Canadian Ballet's success at Covent Garden, she was asked first to organise the Royal Ballet's tour of Canada in 1981. She acted similarly in organising a six-week tour of Canada by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1983, in liaison with the Canada Council and the British Council.
Her dark, exotic beauty was of Ukrainian origin. She was born Belle Gubler in Kiev, emigrating with her parents to Canada when she was but three months old. They settled in Ottawa, where she attended the Lisgar Collegiate school and, aged 20, married Harold Shenkman, an Ottawa businessman. They were later divorced, and in 1979 she married Major-General J.D. (Desmond) Smith, who held senior commands in the Canadian Army before following a business career in London until his death four years ago. But she retained her first husband's name in her increasingly busy cultural work.
Her flair for fund-raising became apparent in the 1950s, when she served as vice- chairman and chairman of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra committee. The orchestra faced dire financial problems, and it was largely through her efforts in a relatively small community that the orchestra was enabled to continue. Belle Shenkman moved in 1962 to London, where her organisation of the Canada Centennial Ball helped to set up a scholarship fund for Canadian students in the UK.
Besides her interests in music and dance, she promoted Canadian Eskimo artists, an exhibition of modern Canadian tapestries, and other events. She was also a member of the Royal Academy Trust's advisory committee, of the development council for the National Theatre, of the executive committee of the Contemporary Arts Society, and of the Contemporary Dance Trust.
In all these causes Belle Shenkman worked tirelessly on the practical and social aspects, organising galas and making arrangements for the reception of royal guests. With a mixture of great personal charm and persuasive enthusiasm she would even undertake the selling of blocks of tickets, and in recent years was in demand from leading commercial concerns to act as their cultural consultant in deciding how best to benefit the arts. Her death from leukaemia has removed a dedicated and hard-working patron without whom the cultural scene will be greatly the poorer.
Belle Gubler, arts patron and fund-raiser: born Kiev 24 June 1928; CM 1979; married 1948 Harold Shenkman (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1979 J.D. (Desmond) Smith (died 1991); died London 11 March 1995.
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