The Rozsa Awards: Looking Back and Looking Forward

by Lisa Mackay



In 2002, Ted Rozsa was awarded the Edmund C Bovey Award, which honours individuals from the business community for their outstanding support of the arts. The $20,000 prize is given to the recipient to distribute to the arts organizations of their choice. When Ted received the award, however, he sat down with his family to decide what to do with it. Mary Rozsa de Coquet had been running the foundation for two years by this point, and had been actively learning a great deal about foundations. At the urging of Marvi Ricker, now Vice President and Director of Philanthropic Advisory Services at BMO, she attended a Council for Foundations meeting in California. “It was at that conference in California that I first heard the idea of a foundation presenting an award,” says Mary. “An award, the theory went, would raise the profile of the sector they were supporting, and I hoped it would possibly change the public perception of arts leaders being poor business managers. I knew so many of them were doing so much with nothing.”


Mary proposed that the Bovey award prize money be used by the Rozsa Foundation to recognize top arts managers in Calgary and provide their organizations with mentoring and financial support for their continuing arts administration professional development. The family readily agreed. Ted pledged to match the Bovey Award prize amount, and inspired several other business leaders to do the same. This was combined into an endowment for the awards, making them an annual event.


The idea of publicly recognizing arts administrators with an award was to celebrate their achievements, and to illuminate the direct line from strong arts managers to strong arts companies, to a stronger and healthier community in general. Supporting these managers and investing in their continued expertise and excellence was seen by the Rozsa family as a direct way to strengthen the arts sector as a whole. When arts organizations are well managed by visionary and effective leaders, they are better equipped to withstand changes in economy, politics, and other external circumstances. As these arts leaders move to other arts companies in their career, these companies also benefit from their capable management. Furthermore, by highlighting arts managers, the award would demonstrate to the business and funding communities the amazing and difficult work being done in the arts sector.


The inaugural Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management ceremony and celebration was held in 2003, and the award was given to Bob McPhee, CEO of the Calgary Opera. Since then, 16 arts leaders have received the Award for Excellence in Arts Management and one has received the award for Excellence in Board Leadership, which was introduced in 2019. (View the recipient list here)


Over the years the ceremony has moved locations, the criteria has changed and developed, and the accompanying suite of benefits has grown. For example, in addition to the cash prizes, 2019 recipients Sara Leishman and Tara Owen received tuition for a leadership program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, a marketing audit from students at the Haskayne School of Executive Management, succession planning consulting from Transcend Management Advisors, governance consulting from Alexandra Hatcher Consulting, an advertising allotment from CKUA Radio, funding for technology expenses from Vital Business Systems, video production services from Roadwest Pictures, design consultation from Good Company, and a glass sculpture from Fibre and Glass.


Likewise, the ceremony itself has expanded, with a theme and entertainment based on the previous year’s recipient to further highlight their work and their organization. Performers and contributors from Trickster Theatre, Catalyst Theatre, and Wordfest have all helped the Awards Ceremonies of recent years come to life.



Many of the Rozsa Foundation’s professional development programs have also grown out of the Awards, where the development of the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP) program grew out of smaller seminars and training opportunities for recipients. Now the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program is available to recipients who have not yet taken it, and staff members at their organization often enroll in the RAMP and Rozsa Admin Fundamentals Training (RAFT) programs.


“The awards were such a catalyzing event for our family,” remembers Mary. “It allowed the whole family to participate, including 12-year-old MC [Mary’s daughter] who made name tags and banners. My sister Ruth Ann organized amazing events. And it honoured Mom and Dad, and really spoke to the work they had been doing to support the arts all along.”


The Rozsa Awards also galvanized the arts sector, and elevated the discourse amongst arts leaders and the business community. "The Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management has had an immediate and lasting positive effect on the Art Gallery of Alberta and on my own approach to leadership within that organization," asserted Tony Luppino, Former Executive Director of the Alberta Art Gallery and the 2007 award recipient. Marilyn Smith, Former Executive Director of the Southern Alberta Gallery of Art and 2011 recipient, agrees. “The benefits of the award touched every corner of my organization providing immediate and long-term payback and also enhanced my capacity as an effective member of the cultural sector."

Tara Owen of the Alberta Craft Council receives the inaugural 2019 Rozsa Award for Excellence in Board Leadership

2018 award recipient Shelley Youngblut feels the awards created a lasting positive effect on the arts sector. “We are living right now in a time of tremendous global change, and that means challenge, but it also means opportunity,” she asserted. “I fully believe the arts see the open doors; we see the paths that no one else sees. Let us lead. Let us show you the way. I think that’s what the Rozsa Foundation enables me and my colleagues, and other people in this city, this province, this country, to do.”


It is this ongoing impact that Mary Rozsa de Coquet feels the awards have had since the beginning. “Looking back, you can see that all the little green shoots of the Rozsa Foundation were there in the awards,” she mused. “The mentoring component, the professional development programs, even the grants that focus on the sustainability of organizations and systems for growth. It’s wonderful to see how the awards and their offshoots have developed and strengthened over the years.”


As we now pivot to address Covid-19 and pressing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, the awards, the benefits, and training will continue to be responsive and adaptive to our circumstances. We look forward to many more years of gathering, celebrating, and strengthening arts leaders and their organizations.

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