Royal Ontario Museum announces $50 million cash gift — largest in its history

Hennick Family Foundation’s gift will allow the ROM “to transform iconic spaces and the way we experience art, culture and nature.”

The Royal Ontario Museum — more widely known in Toronto as the ROM — has announced a $50-million cash gift from the Hennick Family Foundation, the biggest cash donation in its history.

“We cannot think of a better way to support the revitalization of civic life in Toronto and Ontario than to support the Royal Ontario Museum’s new vision, which promises to transform iconic spaces and the way we experience art, culture and nature for generations to come,” said Barbara and Jay Hennick in a statement.

The donation comes on the heels of the museum announcing its major new revisioning and branding strategy just weeks ago, beginning with the first floor of the museum and gallery being free to the public from June 9 to Sept. 25: some 80,000 square feet of exhibition space that includes Asian galleries, two pandemic-related shows and the Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples arts and culture, as reported earlier this month in the Star.

“The Hennicks are remarkable people and they came in and saw our vision to make the ROM a more open, welcoming and dynamic museum that makes a difference in people’s lives and they said they wanted to help make that possible,” said ROM director and CEO Josh Basseches.

“This is just extraordinary generosity. (The Hennicks) said, ‘Not only do we want to be making this gift, but we want to make this the catalyst to inspire others to support the ROM and support the ROM’s vision for the future,’” Basseches said.

The museum has recently embarked on several initiatives to make the ROM more welcoming, including reopening the historic Weston doors and the restoration of the Queen’s Park facade on the museum’s east side in late 2017, and opening the Helga and Michael Schmidt Performance Terrace for outdoor events — many of them free — as well as the Reed Family Plaza on Bloor Street West overlooking Philosopher’s Walk in summer 2019.

“Ultimately we hope that hundreds of thousands of more people will see the ROM as a place to hang out, as a living room for the GTA and beyond. The Hennicks heard that vision … of making the ROM a central cultural and civic and community space and they wanted to support that,” Basseches said.

“We have more to come. We’re not going to be making specific announcements until they’re a little further developed in the fall. But just having the Hennicks step forward and say, ‘We want to help make this happen in a big way’ is just huge to our ability to move forward,” he added.

John Kearsey, president and CEO of the museum’s philanthropic arm, said in a statement that, “The Hennick Family Foundation is enabling us to offer a more inclusive space for people to learn, exchange ideas and share different points of view,” and reiterated the importance of the gift to what he called “once-in-a-generation change.”

With files from Bruce DeMara

Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas


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