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John and Myrna Daniels, who funded, the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Artscape Daniels Spectrum among other projects, are seen on Nov. 22.

The Globe and Mail

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

When it comes to charity, some people give at the office. Others, such as John and Myrna Daniels, give offices. On Nov. 22, the Toronto philanthropists were among those honoured at an awards luncheon hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The couple have a long history of philanthropy, with a strong interest in the arts. The Daniels were early supporters of the Toronto International Film Festival, and later gifted $18.5-million in support of the festival's permanent home, the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

"Mr. Daniels was generous enough to write the first cheque for the festival, when everybody told him he was a fool," says wife Myrna, referring to her husband with honorific respect. "But then he was also one of the founders of Cineplex. Everybody thought that was a foolish idea. Who would want to go to little rooms to watch films?"

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Asked if there was a thread that tied their philanthropic activity together, Daniels says that her husband "simply wishes to give back to the country that gave him all the opportunity in the world."

The businessman and real estate developer is a first-generation Canadian who arrived from Poland as a preteen on the eve of the Second World War. In 2008, he gifted $14-million to the University of Toronto's facility of architecture. Fifty years earlier, the school had provided him with financial assistance to cover his studies.

The latest Daniels project is the Artscape Daniels Launchpad, billed as a one-stop art-and-design entrepreneurship hub opening in 2018 on Toronto's East Bayfront, with funding from the private sector, philanthropists and three levels of government. "The company has always tried to direct itself to creating communities, rather than just build buildings," Daniels says. "It will be artists exchanging ideas, which is the most wonderful thing there is in the arts."

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com

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