Leacross Foundation has been a long-time supporter of MASC, and most recently of the MASC Young Authors and Illustrators Festival. MASC Communications Director Jessica Ruano sat down with Roslyn Bern, President of Leacross Foundation, to find out what arts education means to her.

Leacross Foundation’s mission is to educate women and girls. What gendered barriers to education do you continue to observe today? 

Women are 51% of the population and we’re still not in the upper echelons of making changes and decisions that affect society in general. I work with mainly women and girls in STEM fields, who have enlightened me that they have difficulty finding role models who have led the way. I’m fighting for those barriers to be broken down, one scholarship, one bursary, one experience, one internship at a time. We continue with these expectations by supporting organizations like MASC, an organization that shows the youth artistic role models, regardless of gender.

We want to level the playing field so that we can say to all children: you do not have to just be whatever we’ve told you to be in the past. But you need to have those role models. 

Your father started Leacross Foundation in 1993, and you took over in 2001. How has the foundation changed over the years, and in what ways has it stayed the same?

When I came into the family foundation, I realized, as a woman, I wanted to take it in a different direction. Philanthropy has changed: donors want to see impact of their donations. That is why I am so involved in the delivery of programs in not-for-profit organizations.

Since 2008 you have been a key funder of MASC at the organizational level. Why did you initially choose to support MASC?

MASC co-founders Jennifer Cayley and Jan Andrews approached me. I liked the idea of having equitable salaries for artists, and exposure of artistic role models to youth, regardless of location in the Greater Ottawa region.  

And why do you believe so strongly in arts education?

Art reflects the society we’re in: the humanity, the brutality, the inequities, the kindness. Arts education allows for the development of young minds to express what might not be easily displayed with just words.

Leacross Foundation has supported the very popular MASC Young Authors and Illustrators Festival, as well as MASC’s Your Story Festival, where middle school and high school students participate in a day of workshops with professional authors and illustrators. What do you see as the value of these types of festivals?

I really do believe that talking to an authentic author or artist can give kids an experience they would not otherwise have. The youth are then energized and excited about sharing their ideas, knowing that an accomplished writer or illustrator is supporting them.

The value of festivals, after the past three years of lockdown, allows like-minded youth to convene and interact in ways that were not possible during the height of the pandemic. Secondly, the very act of using the body, for writing, for movement, for design, allows for the development of neuro pathways that are vital for the development of the child’s brain. The event at the museum allows for children to experiment, discuss, interact, and investigate.

What do you imagine for the future of MASC and arts education in general?

It is important for organizations like MASC to continue to allow for creativity in all forms, especially for young minds. With accomplished role models, children will create what has not been done before. That’s incredibly powerful.