Mark Smith is many things: an event planner, former music industry executive, strategic communicator, logistics manager, community advocate, philanthropist, free-speech activist, and personal chef. Put all those hats together and he’s nothing short of an inspiration. Smith dedicates approximately 60% of any given day to community and NFP work, has helped raise over $40 million for education and outreach, and was a producer and the director of the three Kumbaya Concerts for People Living with AIDs (Canada’s first large-scale national awareness concert). Now on his third term as part of the Pride Board, Smith is one of the reasons World Pride 2014 has made Toronto a go-to destination for people around the world this summer, as well as an event that will effect positive change locally and internationally for years to come.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
For 20 years I have been a volunteer with Pride Toronto in some capacity: two terms as the Chair of Entertainment; three terms as a Board Member; and for several years as a founding member of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech – fighting Pride when it sidetracked into “misdirection and nepotism.”
What have been the biggest challenges and greatest rewards as you gear up for World Pride 2014 in Toronto?
Balancing dreams with reality and human nature. When we first discussed World Pride coming to Toronto at World Pride Jerusalem in 2006, we dreamt a large-scale event with a human rights conference, a spirituality conference, large-scale global activism, and arts and culture; an event that would be focused on bringing attention to a smaller World Pride in a region that needed the activism and support.
The rewards are a dynamic human rights conference, and citywide arts and culture partnerships the likes that have never before seen in Canada. All of that and the massive focused, dedicated work of our volunteer teams – it is both inspiring and humbling.
What events are you most looking forward to at World Pride 2014?
The gala, which is sold out. I have been an acquaintance of k.d lang for 30ish years, and other than seeing her in a recording studio or at her first show in Vancouver, or managing her merchandise sales at Stonewall 25, I have never seen her perform live. It also signals a huge turn around for Pride, which has not had a gala for a few years after several badly planned and executed ones. We have our stride back… And 2am on Sunday morning, when I’m watching the last trucks pulling off the site, knowing it is a job well done and we made a whole lot of people happy – there is no feeling like it.
What makes Toronto such a special city, specifically with regards to LGBTTIQQ2SA communities?
What’s one Toronto restaurant you’d recommend World Pride visitors try and why?
Pho Hung on Spadina. It has been my go-to place for over 20 years. I’ve taken visitors, celebrities, and my dad there, and it never disappoints.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Travel. D and I try to get to some place new at least two times a year. Walls, for our art collection and mid-century glassware. La Calombe Coffee, available in NYC, Philly and Chicago. West Elm here in Toronto sells it but not the blends I like.
What is next for you after Pride?
I am eye balling two projects, establishing a National LGBT Histories Month, and I have requests from a few small, newly established Prides to come help them develop strategic plans.
Let’s get social for a moment. How do we stay up-to-date with you?
I am actually a very private person, but if people really want they can follow me on Twitter. I post at least once a month… or less.