Marilyn I. Walker

Marilyn Walker was a philanthropist, a community builder, and a passionate advocate for the arts. Walker helped create positive change in Niagara long before the new Walker School was ever imagined for downtown St. Catharines.

Tribute To Marilyn Walker

(Source: The Brock News, October 1, 2015)

Brock University is in mourning after the death of longtime friend and supporter Marilyn Walker.

Walker died in St. Catharines on Thursday, Oct. 1. She was 80 years of age, and had been in failing health for several months.

Her passing came 13 days after she attended the Sept. 18 official opening of the University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, in downtown St. Catharines. On that warm late-summer afternoon, hundreds of people packed a marquee tent in front of the new school as Marilyn Walker and her husband Norris sat in armchairs beside the stage, listening to University, arts community and political figures praise the Walker School’s transformative impact for Brock students and for the community at large.

The new Walker School combined new construction with restored heritage architecture to create a state-of-the-art learning complex that has placed 500 students and faculty into the heart of Niagara’s largest urban centre.

One of North America’s leading fibre artists and a creator of sophisticated quilts, Walker was a passionate advocate of the arts as well as a generous philanthropist.

In 2008 she made history and headlines when she donated $15-million to Brock University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, which was renamed in her honour. It was the University’s largest-ever gift and ultimately the catalyst to create the new Walker School downtown.

Brock University President Jack Lightstone called her death “a loss that will never be replaced.”

“Marilyn leaves a huge legacy for the University and for the whole community,” said Lightstone. “She not only altered Brock’s ability to accelerate learning for future generations of students, she changed the course of history for the University and for the Niagara Region.

“Brock’s new school would never have been created in the city centre if not for Marilyn’s vision and generosity, and its role in the renaissance of the downtown would never have been realized.”

Derek Knight, Director of the Walker School, said Walker’s vision and passion had already made her an inspiration for students and faculty alike.

“I can’t imagine a more thoughtful, compassionate person than Marilyn,” said Knight. “She has changed all of our lives for the best. The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts is testament to her enduring strength, emphatic belief in the arts and the legacy of creative vision.”

Marilyn Walker changed the way people view quilts, working tirelessly to gain their acceptance as a serious art form with cultural, historic and creative significance.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, she was particularly active in promoting fibre arts, lecturing on their history and artistic significance and teaching new techniques across North America.

She was also one of the first to employ new technologies in the design and execution of quilts, and in 1998 she curated the inaugural Canadian Contemporary Quilt competition, which toured Canada for two years.

In 1992 her book, Ontario’s Heritage Quilts, was awarded the Canadian Historical Association Award of Merit, an award normally presented to academic historians, for its contribution to regional history. In 2002 The Canadian Quilters Association presented her with the Dorothy McMurdie Award, its most prestigious award, for her significant contributions to Canadian quilting.

Walker helped create positive change in Niagara long before the new Walker School was ever imagined for downtown St. Catharines. She was involved for many years with the St. Catharines chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, and was instrumental in sustaining the St. Catharines Area Arts Council, Bethlehem Place and Women’s Place.

In recognition of her many achievements and enduring friendship, Brock University awarded her an honorary doctorate at its 2008 Fall Convocation.

In 2007 she was awarded a Mayor’s Patron of the Arts Award by the City of St. Catharines for her significant contributions.

Marilyn Walker initiated an art project whose premise and motivation drew from the experiences of Brock University students. The objective was to use these observations to produce a quilt that now hangs prominently in the School’s new downtown facility. Students from Dramatic Arts, Music, Visual Arts and the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture were encouraged to share their perspectives with particular emphasis on their collective experience within the School of Fine and Performing Arts. Students were also encouraged to participate in the fabrication of the quilt, and contribute their ideas via a Facebook group that was set up for the project.

 Marilyn Walker was an author and celebrated fibre artist. Her gift of $15 million to the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts was the catalyst in developing the School’s new facilities in the downtown core.

Beginning in 2018 the Executive of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts will be awarding the Marilyn I. Walker Textile Art Award.

This award will be made to an undergraduate student who is graduating from the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA), Brock University; who is awarded, by vote of the Executive Committee of the MIWSPFA, the top prize for a piece of textile art produced and submitted by said student.

As the award must be granted to a student for the purposes of his or her continuing education and or development, students must also submit an expression of their intention to continue this education and or development.

For the purposes of this award, textile art is defined as a work of art that utilizes any and all forms of textiles, either natural or man-made, and in any form of original artistic expression.

For the purposes of this award, continuing education or development is defined as any form of post graduate education and development which the student may wish to pursue whether at a college, university, by way of apprenticeship at a technical institute or at a research facility.

We thank Marilyn I. Walker and her estate for the legacy of her generosity.