The Art Of Love – Shanea and Dr. David Rakowski
Philanthropists Shanea and Dr. David Rakowski know how to embrace life, and they fill it with everything that speaks to them, from art to travel to food. And Shanea’s blog, Shanea Savours, showcases it all. But perhaps even more important is their love for each other, for their kids and their grandkids — and their joy in giving back to the community.
This story starts with a letter. When Shanea and David Rakowski were travelling in Asia years ago, they came across an exclusive travel guide with a section about Toronto. Shanea sent them a polite letter explaining they had it all wrong. The editors wrote back, asking if she’d like to write for them. “I’ll give it a try,” she said to them at the time.
Shanea went on to become a travel consultant, advising people on places to eat, where to shop and what to see. She started typing out lists and making copies for friends. “A few years ago, people kept saying I should write a blog,” says Shanea. So she did. Her blog, Shanea Savours (shaneasavours.com), is loaded with info on travel, food and art, and her Instagram account features beautiful photos of what she loves.
David still works part time maintaining a dental practice with his son, and he manages the family real estate portfolio. “When I come home, I like to go to the gym − boring,” he says with a laugh. One thing they have in common? A love of art. Inspired by the vibrant art scene in Miami, where they spend time over the winter, they are both avid collectors and have been to almost every Art Basel show in Miami. Recently, the Rakowskis opened the doors to their Toronto home and let people view their post-war and modern art collection, with proceeds going to the Baycrest Foundation’s Brain Project. “I was happy to see people of all different ages, young and old alike, and to be able to share the enjoyment,” says Shanea.
“I was happy to see people of all different ages, young and old alike, and to be able to share the enjoyment”
Sometimes collecting works of art is a combination of time and circumstance, with the universe coming together to make it happen. Take their largest artwork, for example, which is a painting by Canadian contemporary artist Jack Bush. As it happened, it was 2008, and the economy had taken a downturn. The couple walked into an art gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville one day and saw one of Bush’s works, which was on consignment, and they offered a bid. Too low, we’ll never get it, they thought as they left. Five minutes later, they got a call telling them they had the painting.
The same year and in similar style, the Rakowskis acquired their favourite piece: Ray Parker’s Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 1963. They fell in love with the painting at the Art Basel show, but they had just purchased the Jack Bush. But it was still for sale when they saw it again at the art dealer’s shop in New York. David told the dealer to give them a call if they could get it down to their price, which was nowhere near what the dealer was asking. Five minutes later, they got the call. “We were afraid to purchase it,” says Shanea, who’d never heard of Ray Parker. “I just liked the picture.” But when she was told that David Mirvish collects them, she went for it. “He’s a big art collector, I thought, so he must know he’s good. So I said, ‘Well, if it’s good enough for David Mirvish … ’”
And sometimes, appreciating different art forms is borne out of necessity. When the Rakowskis moved into their condo at the Four Seasons after it was built, there wasn’t much wall space because most of the walls are glass. So they decided to place two sculpture installations on their two balconies. “We don’t go out there, anyway; it’s too windy,” says David. “And it gives us another view of these large pieces.”
A love of art isn’t the only thing this couple has in common. Shanea and David went hiking on a recent trip to California. They visited galleries and viewed a private art collection. “We enjoy doing everything together, and my husband always says, ‘I don’t need people, I just need you.’” It’s Shanea who pushes the both of them to travel to exotic places. This fall, they are going to Cambodia and Vietnam. “For David’s 60th birthday, we went to Africa, and he didn’t want to go, but he said it was the best trip of his life.”
They’re both people who get tremendous joy from giving back, especially in support of the arts. “We’re members of TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival] because we love film and we’re members of the Curators’ Circle at the AGO,” says Shanea. She’s on the art committee of their condo as well, helping to select new art for the lobby. David is a senator for The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, an organization committed to countering racism and anti-Semitism, and promoting tolerance, inclusivity and togetherness.
When asked how they want to be remembered, they pause. Shanea and David just want to be remembered for being good people, they say. People who treat others well and with kindness. “A lot of people want to be thought of as great leaders in the community and great philanthropists, and that’s important to me, but our kids and grandkids mean everything to us,” says David. Everything else is secondary, he adds.
“We are family people,” he says simply. “I’m a child of Holocaust survivors, so that’s a whole other ball game, where the parents tried very hard to keep us close because of their lack of family who survived.”
Shanea’s mom is turning 95 this year. “All my friends say, ‘Your mom is so positive, so friendly, so amazing,’” she says. “If somebody would say that about me if I live to be that old, that would be a great thing.”