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THE SCOOP | National Ballet Of Canada Receives $10 Million Gift Honouring A Lifelong Love Of Dance

By Anya Wassenberg on June 9, 2022

Donald K. Johnson and Anna McCowan-Johnson (Image courtesy of the NBC)
Donald K. Johnson and Anna McCowan-Johnson (Image courtesy of the NBC)

The National Ballet of Canada has received a $10 million gift from Canadian businessman and philanthropist Donald K. Johnson. Announced by Cornell Wright, Chair of The National Ballet of Canada, the gift will honour Johnson’s late wife Anna McCowan-Johnson’s lifelong love of ballet as well as giving back to the community.

“Anna was a dear friend to The National Ballet of Canada as well as to our artists. She was an active member of our audience, an advocate for ballet and an exemplar of the philanthropic spirit,” said Barry Hughson, Executive Director.

Two areas of focus

The gift will be used to fund two of the NBC’s key areas of focus. The Anna McCowan-Johnson New Creations Fund will be used to both acquire and produce new works.

“With this generous gift, The National Ballet of Canada will be well placed to commission inspiring new repertoire with creators and collaborators that will challenge our artists and share new stories with our audiences. In the pursuit of maintaining relevance and contributing to the international dialogue, the National Ballet will honour Anna’s legacy by continuing to encourage creativity at home and abroad,” said Hope Muir, Joan and Jerry Lozinski Artistic Director.

The gift will also be used to create a new position focused on education and community outreach. The Anna McCowan-Johnson Director of Equity and Engagement will also oversee the organization’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts.

“The National Ballet of Canada is committed to making the arts more accessible and connecting with different communities to promote movement, imagination and an appreciation for the arts. Our goals are to find common ground in our shared passion for the joy and power of dance, while we engage with our community in a spirit of relevant and meaningful exchange. Don’s extraordinary gift will allow us to move forward with the hiring of this new position to ensure that our EDI values are front and centre in every decision we make and will expand our community engagement partnerships and programming,” said Hughson.

“Anna was an inspirational teacher and committed to supporting the next generation of dancers. As Founder and Artistic Director of the Interplay School of Dance for 25 years, she mentored countless dancers to pursue a career in ballet, and her former students are spread across the country in both performance and teaching positions, as well as being avid audience members,” noted Johnson. “While nothing brought her greater pleasure than seeing young people make the decision to pursue dance, Anna also wanted to make the artform accessible to as many people as possible.”

Alongside his career in the banking and investment industry, Johnson has been active in the non-profit sector, including chairing the 1994 capital campaign that raised $13 million for the National Ballet to create the Walter Carsen Centre. He also played a key role in lobbying the government on behalf of the charitable sector, in order to allow for tax-free gifts of publicly listed securities to registered charities. His efforts were recognized in an appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2005, promoted to Officer in 2009.

  • The couple first sponsored Principal Dancer Svetlana Lunkina in 2016 through the Dancers First program
    Johnson set up The Anna McCowan-Johnson Dance Accessibility Fund within The National Ballet of Canada;
  • Endowment Foundation in 2016 to support young people’s dance education.

Along with the National Ballet’s gift, Johnson will be donating another two gifts of $3 million each to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and to the National Ballet School.


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