Cultural Igniters Series – Salah Bachir

I had the pleasure of connecting with the amazing Salah Bachir who has inspired me for many years with his dedication to the arts, philanthropy, social causes and general fabulousness. He answers some of my questions about his amazing life as he prepares for his annual fundraiser for The 519 in Toronto.

You are preparing for the annual 519 Gala happening this November and for the 2nd year due to the pandemic it is a virtual affair. Please tell us about the smashing line-up and what glamour is planned?

We have a fantastic lineup at this year’s virtual gala, including performances by Alan Cummings, Ben Vereen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Serena Ryder, Jackie Richardson, Theo Tams, and more. These are all artists who have come together to dedicate their time and talent to supporting this organization and the incredible work it has been doing throughout the pandemic to support our community. Many of them are friends of ours and have performed at the gala in previous years when we were able to do it in-person.

How many years has this been happening and why did you feel the need to create this event?

We were trying to figure out if we’ve been doing this for 16 years now? 17 years? It’s been a while. We created the event to ensure The 519 can continue to operate and provide a safe space for LGBTQ community members to gather and organize.

You have had many stars shine bright and lend their talents over the years. Please let folks know some of the highlight guests that have graced the stage throughout the run.

We’ve had many great artists support our gala over the years. Eartha Kitt was one of the early ones, a performance that still stands out to me. Alan Cumming’s live performance in 2017 was incredible, full of energy and a great experience for everyone there. The year before that we had Jason Alexander. Jackie Richardson, Molly Johnson and Louise Pitre have all performed many times over the years – they are all incredible talents.

Philanthropy and social justice have always seemed to be a guiding force with you. Tell us about this passion and why this is so important to you?

Simply put: I believe in human rights. It’s really not more complicated than that. I am a gay, Arab immigrant – and I believe in equal rights for all. There are still places where it’s not safe to be any one of those things – let alone a combination of them. I’m also an entrepreneur, and I’ve always said that philanthropy makes good business sense too: the social relationships that you create are a form of capital.

As a community leader you have done so much for the LGBTQI+ Community and really helped push things forward here in Canada. What are some of the things you are most proud of and what are the most significant strides you have witnessed over the years?

The campaign for equal marriage rights is one of the things I’m most proud of. We ran slides in the cinemas preceding the film, advocating for marriage equality. We got death threats for doing that – which is how I knew we must be doing something right. Legal entitlements for gay couples – like the right to visit each other in hospital – were not enshrined, not that long ago. We still have a lot of work to do to achieve full equality for all, but it has been reassuring to witness some of the changes that we have seen over the past decades.

You are a man who wears many hats and fabulous jewelry! Tell us a little about your work within the film biz with Cineplex, as a publisher with Cineplex and Premiere Magazines and finally the very distinguished title of Chancellor at OCAD University.

I’ve worked in film and publishing for most of my life, and it’s been great. It started with Premiere Magazine, an industry publication for the at-home VHS market that I created with my brother. Over the years it grew into a trade show and then a partnership with Viacom. When Famous Players was acquired by Cineplex, the name of the magazine changed from Famous Magazine to Cineplex Magazine, which I published for more than 15 years. My chancellorship at OCAD concluded last year, and it was an interesting experience. I enjoyed the opportunity to help support emerging artists as they begin their careers.

Speaking of glamorous and significant titles a few years ago you received the Order of Canada! How did this impact you and how does it feel to be recognized or all the good you do?

It felt great. I was very honoured.

As a part of the art world you have also worked with some incredible artists over the years and even been immortalized by a few! Tell us about some of your faves.

I am a big proponent of Kent Monkman’s work – it’s so pertinent and subversive, in terms of current discussions around the legacy of colonialism in Canada; I’ve been working with the McMichael gallery to add his work to their collection and to enhance their broader collections of Indigenous art. Attila Lukacs and the American photographer Greg Gorman are also artists I’ve collected extensively, and who I have posed for.

Two years ago you received a new kidney and a new lot in life. I am sure this was not an easy time for you but you continue to shine and persevere. What have you learned from this harrowing journey?

What I learned from this is that publicly funded healthcare is a human right, and nurses are the most heroic and compassionate people. They took care of me so well; I am forever indebted.

What wondrous things can we expect in the future from you? What is next?

Time will tell – but I am enjoying a (somewhat) less hectic corporate schedule, having a bit of breathing room to spend time outside the city, and I am looking into launching an art gallery or foundation. Maybe another magazine. Or two. And of course, continuing to support fantastic organizations like The 519, St. Joe’s, the AGO and other capital campaigns.

To learn more about The 519 Annual Gala visit:

Photos by: George Pimentel and Erin Leydon (Toronto Life)

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