The Canadian winters David Genser had to endure growing up probably don’t seem real anymore, especially as he walks his dog, a Boxer-mix named Effy that he and his wife Joan rescued during the pandemic, in the warmth of Palm Beach, Florida.
Genser, who founded and continues to operate an insurance company specializing in art insurance, is currently president of the Palm Beach Opera (PBO). It only takes a few moments to be inspired by his infectious enthusiasm for PBO and the arts.
“The arts have always been part of my whole life,” says Genser. “They always will be.”
Genser was born in Winnipeg, Canada. His parents were very involved in the arts there, a love they learned from David’s grandfather, who was a violinist and founded the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Genser’s father was both an athlete — in fact, he was a Canadian speed skating champion in the 1930s — and a musician, but he made his living in the furniture business. Above all, Genser’s father had a great love of the arts and was the founder of the Manitoba Theater Centre.
“Winnipeg was a cultural mecca, with different kinds of music and art — and my family was involved in all of that,” Genser says. “I met so many real artists, actors and musicians since very often my parents entertained the performers at our house.”
He remembers the time world-renowned Canadian pianist Glen Gould came to their house and instead of mingling with the rest of the glitter he asked for a bowl of hot water to soak his hands in and spent his time in the kitchen, talking with a young Genser and the housekeeper.
Genser attended McGill University in Montreal, where he met Joan and, after earning his MBA from New York University, married her in 1964 and moved back to Winnipeg. By chance, Genser, who wanted to forge his own path and not stay in the family furniture business, meets Jules Lederer, the husband of legendary columnist Ann Landers and owner of Budget Rent A Car. David decided to buy a Budget franchise that would serve Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Massachusetts.
“That’s what brought us to Boston,” says Genser.
At one point, however, Trans America purchased Genser’s franchise from Budget.
“After that, my wife and I immersed ourselves in the art world as collectors of contemporary art and I made the decision to go into the insurance business, specializing in the insurance of art,” says Genser.
It was a great decision, as the business was successful.
“Today, I insure collectors, galleries and artists around the world,” says Genser. “Joan and I have continued to collect art, which has been a great asset to my clients. We understand what their needs are.
Genser and Joan bought an apartment in Palm Beach in 2002. Joan wasn’t one of the first to be in Florida. Years ago, she fought the idea of moving south to a place that had the unflattering nickname “God’s waiting room.” There is no more debate.
“Joan said February was for skiing and she wasn’t sure about spending our winters in Florida,” Genser says.
But Genser soon learned that all the preconceptions about Palm Beach weren’t at all accurate. It was the perfect place. There was a thriving artistic community.
“What I’ve come to love about Palm Beach is that it’s not a cultural wasteland,” he says. “There was a time when most of us thought there really was no culture in Palm Beach, and of course that’s not true at all.”
A genuine love of creativity and performance aside, there’s a simple reason such a small place can regularly showcase some of the world’s most famous artists.
“One wonders how such a small community could have a great opera company, a wonderful regional theater company, a great museum company, as well as a symphony,” says Genser. “All of this is possible because there’s so much money in Palm Beach, and we can afford to fund all of these organizations. And we also have the ability to introduce people of all ages in many communities to the beauty of the arts.
But Genser’s main focus is the Palm Beach Opera House. Founded 36 years ago, it is recognized as one of the best regional opera companies in the country. Many of the greatest living opera singers have performed at the Palm Beach Opera and many of them were students at PBO and received their initial training in Palm Beach.
Today, Genser is working to ensure the organization continues to grow. The organization recently purchased a building in the Northwood section of West Palm Beach, and it will house both the PBO’s administrative offices and the production center.
“We are in a period of expansion with the purchase of this building,” says Genser. “The Parliamentary Budget Officer is in a fantastic position. Although I cannot speak to the financial success of other organizations, Palm Beach Opera operates in the dark – one of the only opera companies to boast of this accomplishment.
The organization has developed programs for young people of all backgrounds in South Florida.
“I am so proud of what we do to introduce young people to this beautiful world, regardless of their background. Art is a gift,” says Genser. “I think at this point in my life, when I stop being active in the Palm Beach Opera, I’ll probably stop being very active in organizations.”
“I’m not a young child,” he adds. “I feel like at some point I’ll have to sit down – but hopefully that won’t happen any time soon.”
On his walks in Palm Beach, Genser has his Air Pods, losing himself to the sound of the opera or the symphony. But today, he says, he listens to legendary folk band The Kingston Trio. He sums up his passion in the most basic and relevant statement possible, the one that has motivated him personally and professionally.
“I love music,” he laughs. “What else can I say?”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate editor of Dan’s papers.