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Taking it to the street

Toronto's Mink Mile opens its doors in support of CANFAR, while BMO recognizes bright young art stars. Nolan Bryant reports

In the 20 years that have passed since the inception of Bloor Street Entertains, the event has become a must-attend on Toronto's fall social calendar – one that unites stylish high-street shops with the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research for a simultaneous series of intimate dinners within Toronto's ritziest retail real estate. The dinners are then followed by a big bash at the Royal Ontario Museum. Purveyors of posh products that dot Toronto's Bloor Street West, including Burberry, Boss, Dolce and Gabbana and Holt Renfrew Men, throw open their doors for one night and make space for a table, a big-name chef and a handful of generous guests. The result is a chic charitable dinner party in an unexpected space, a fundraising model that, after 20 years, still works.

I was a guest of Jeronimo de Miguel, Manulife Financial's VP of innovation and CANFAR board member, and we dined in-store at British leather-goods maker Mulberry; Andrew Carter, of Yorkville spot The Oxley, was on dinner duty, and Caspar Haydar did the flowers. What made a lovely meal even better was the presence of decorator and bon vivant Lee Wells. He, alongside Cathie Bratty and Catherine Nugent – both members of a group of well-heeled do-gooders once dubbed the "Glitter Girls" by then Globe and Mail society scribe Rosemary Sexton – started the event in the early years of the AIDS pandemic to raise funds and awareness for the cause. The three rallied the shops they frequented to participate, and 20 years and several steering committees later, the event has raised more than $7-million (over $750,000 of which was raised at this latest gala) for CANFAR, an organization focused on HIV/AIDS research and awareness.

Wells, who attended with husband Andy Faas, spoke poignantly, saying that he wished a cure had already been found so that the event didn't have to continue; he was hopeful that sometime soon we would have a cure and that Bloor Street Entertains could be passed on to benefit another worthy cause. My fellow diners included Diply's Kirstine Stewart and her husband, Toronto Film Commissioner Zaib Shaikh; Sotheby's Christian Vermast; designers Shawn Hewson and Ruth Promislow of the clothing label Bustle; Silver Hotel Group's Alex Filiatrault and Dr. Graham Smith; and Warner Music Canada president Steve Coady and his wife, Corby Distilleries Ltd.'s Kelley Burns-Coady.

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At the helm of this year's event was a group of well-connected co-chairs, among them Sylvia Mantella, an active fundraiser, fashion plate and the wife of real-estate developer Robert Mantella, who has helped grow the event in recent years. Others co-chairing this latest event and holding court in local shops were long-time CANFAR supporters Andy Pringle, chair of RP Investment Advisors, and his wife, broadcaster Valerie; CanDeal executive VP Tristan Michela; Brennan Custom Homes Inc.'s Joe Brennan and Danny Greenglass; Cineplex Media president Salah Bachir; and Westbury National Show Systems Ltd.'s Frank Gerstein.

A couple weeks earlier, on Nov. 16, the Bank of Montreal hosted its 14th annual 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition. Funded by BMO, which has a hefty corporate art collection of more than 6,000 pieces including works from Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Margaret Priest, Thaddeus Holownia, the competition celebrates the work of talented gen-next art students from post-secondary institutions across Canada. Department heads and instructors of undergraduate certificate, diploma and degree programs in visual art from coast to coast are invited to put forth three students from their graduating classes. This year's selection committee comprised of artist Jeanie Riddle; Kim Simon, curator at Gallery TPW; Michelle LaVallee, associate curator at MacKenzie Art Gallery; Pan Wendt, curator at Confederation Centre Art Gallery; and Dawn Cain, curator of BMO Financial Group's collection. The group chose a national winner and one winner from each province and territory from this year's impressive 248 submissions.

Nathan Levasseur from the University of Alberta was announced as this year's winner of the top prize at a reception held at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, part of The Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Each year, $70,000 total is awarded, divided among 13 regional prizes of $5,000 and one national prize of $10,000. Levasseur was awarded the latter prize for his winning piece Everyone Changes, a digital drawing on metallic gloss paper.

Among the provincial nominees who came from across the country to attend the reception: Alookie Alikatuktuk from Nunavut Arctic College, Alexandre Ménard from Université du Québec à Montréal, Joel Warkentin from the Alberta College of Art & Design, and Lucas Morneau from Memorial University in Newfoundland. Also out: Gilles Ouellette, head of BMO's Wealth Management group; David Liss, artistic director and curator at Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art; art consultant and collector Stephen Smart; gallerists Olga Korper and Marianne Katzman; art enthusiast Popsy Johnstone; and Barbara Fischer, executive director and chief curator of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.

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