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There’s no official word yet on how the swirl of parties that surround the Toronto International Film Festival will take shape.Handout

You can imagine the excitement when an invitation for an actual in-person fundraiser arrived a couple weeks ago, following a long pause in event throwing and going. The invite came from the Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, or CFIM. It’s one of the first organizations out of the reopening party gate, a role model for others in philanthropy who are plotting their returns as public safety restrictions ease.

The event, dubbed Pop-Up Museum, is typically held in a gallery-like setting with a display of works loaned from prominent Toronto collectors. Funds raised from the annual gathering support free access to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem for young people, and part of the monies from this year’s event is supporting the construction of a pavilion in the museum’s Youth Activity Court.

On this August evening, things looked a little different than they have in the past. About 200 ticket holders gathered at the Evergreen Brick Works venue instead of a gallery. In lieu of Picassos, Pissarros and Frankenthalers on walls, there were vintage Mercedes, Sabras and Chevrolets on show under a covered pavilion.

The cars were on loan from the collections of local philanthropists, the Arbib family as well as Jacob Mirvish. The concept was also timely, with New York’s Museum of Modern Art recently opening Automania, a show focused on the aesthetics of cars. And for those interested in works of art that don’t require petrol, there was also a sculpture garden, curated by Troy Seidman of art gallery Caviar20, and featuring pieces by Miro, Etrog and Bertoia, among others.

Pearl Berman, CFIM national director, noted that even with a majority of the organization’s donor base vaccinated, holding an event inside would have been too hard a sell. “We hit the sweet spot,” she says, of the event’s timing and content. “You can’t put contemporary art outside and we couldn’t do this sort of thing in October.”

CFIM national co-chair Tamara Fine noted in her remarks that the group played host to a number of successful digital gatherings and online collection tours over the past 18 months, but that even with success in that sphere, many were keen to gather again in-person. “It’s been a year and a half. They were ready,” she says.

But did the soirée feel like old times? Sort of. While guests were not mandated to wear masks once inside the defined party area – self-assessment forms were sent in the days leading up to the gathering – those servicing the event had covered faces. Noticeably missing from the social terrain was a bar. COVID-19 protocols dictate that noshing and drinking need to be done while seated at tables, which are physically distanced.

It did feel safe, albeit (understandably) a bit staid. Even with all the layers of precaution, I was told there was still hesitancy from a number of guests who have attended in past years. Those who did turn up all seemed happy to be mingling and getting back to the causes they care about.

Elsewhere in Canada, as capacities for indoor events rise, many in positions of party-throwing power are optimistically plotting their comeback bashes.

Notably, the Crystal Ball in support of the BC Children’s Hospital is slated to return at the end of November. The hospital will play host to donors in the ballroom of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, but for those still not ready to hop back into black tie, it will offer a hybrid format.

“Combining both virtual and in-person elements is a compelling way to ensure we are tailoring our gala experience for varying comfort levels,” says Malcolm Berry, president and chief executive officer of the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.

The organization is so optimistic that a second event is already planned: the 25th annual For Children We Care gala on Oct. 30, in support of orthopedic care and research. Berry says many of their supporters have expressed excitement at the prospect of returning to in-person happenings, but he’s also realistic. “We are balancing that optimism – as well as our own – with safety considerations as the public-health landscape continues to shift,” he says.

A number of arts institution that have only just begun to welcome visitors back in to their spaces are choosing to hold out on staging events a little bit longer, or at least keep their plans vague for the moment. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts confirmed via e-mail that it will not hold its annual ball in the fall, but hopes to hold a number of smaller events to fill the social void and engage with their donors.

Down the street, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has tentatively set an early November date for a smaller-scale event, but before any invitations go out, organizers are waiting for more information on the health measures enacted at the beginning of the school year.

In Toronto, there’s no official word yet on how the swirl of parties that surround the Toronto International Film Festival will take shape, but the Artists for Peace and Justice gala, which has raised funds to build schools in Haiti for the past 12 years during the festival, is scheduled for Sept. 11.

The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, which held an in-person fundraising lunch last fall during the brief moment when Ontario guidelines permitted it, will embark on playing host to the 25th anniversary Bloor Street Entertains, a series of dinner parties held in 20 shops along Toronto’s Bloor Street. As few as 20 guests attend each dinner. The intimate nature of the event, says Alex Filiatrault, CANFAR’s CEO, “bodes well with practising safe COVID-19 practices and procedures.”

Filiatrault says the event is the most impactful of the year for the organization, and “returning to an in-person format is central to generating donations for HIV research, testing technology, access to care and HIV awareness.”

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