As attendees took their seats at the Mayor's Arts Awards Lunch in downtown Toronto Thursday, they were quick to notice at each place setting two small cards, one your standard business number, with gold foil, the other a fridge magnet in blue, white and red, both bearing the name and phone number of Rob Ford, who was identified simply as "Mayor."
The cards prompted not a few chuckles. Ford, after all, likes to present himself as Mr. Available, the kind of guy you can call about a pothole or broken watermain no matter the hour. But it also prompted questions: Were the cards portents? Or substitutes? Would he or wouldn't he?
Show up, that is, at the event that nominally bears his name. With Ford's predecessor, David Miller, the answer was a no-brainer: Of course, he'd show. This was his hall (the Arcadian Court, actually) and these were his people. Ford, however, was a more iffy proposition. Last year, when the lunch was held in late September, he was a conspicuous no-show, claiming a previous commitment that turned out to be a football game involving the Don Bosco Eagles, a high-school team he has coached for years. This year, though, seemed more promising. Yes, he'd twisted his foot earlier in the week but school was out and there was no football. Moreover, a month earlier he'd made a surprise appearance at a gay pride event, the first public acknowledgment of that constituency in his almost two years as mayor. To some this was a sign that His Worship was reaching out beyond what they like to call "his base" and if he could do it for the LGBTs, he could do it for the ARTsies.
The suspense ended shortly after noon when the mayor quietly took a seat at Table Five with Chris Lorway, the founding artistic director of Luminato, to his left and Susan Crocker, chair of the Toronto Arts Foundation, on his right. And there, eyes often cast to the ceiling, he pretty much stayed for the next 40 minutes, leaving only to take to the stage briefly to read, without pause, the text on a plaque saluting the foundation and the artists being honoured.
It was admittedly touch and go. Claire Hopkinson, executive director of the foundation, didn't hear that the mayor would be attending until 11 a.m. Prior to this, "we never got a word that he wasn't coming. We just had word that if he didn't come we had a substitute."
Asked afterward what the mayor – who slipped out of the hall just after lunch (tarragon chicken supreme with roasted garlic-spun potato) but before the awards presentation – talked about, Lorway replied: "Fishing." Not just fishing, mind you. "He talked a lot about what he's up to this summer. He was just kind of curious about who some of the people in the room were. I thought it was good. I think he was honoured to be here and I think he was probably a little nervous about what the room might be. But I think everybody showed they were excited to have him here and he had lots of people coming over to say they appreciated it."
Winning the $7,500 RBC Emerging Artist Award was Chris Curreri, while Lydia Adams took the $10,000 Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition. Jini Stolk won the $5,000 William Kilbourn Award and The Daniels Corporation Toronto Arts and Business Award. Supporting our Youth won the $15,000 Arts for Youth Award.