The Canadian winters that David Genser had to endure when he was growing up probably don’t seem real anymore, especially as he is walking 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 that specializes in art insurance, is currently the chairman of the Palm Beach Opera (PBO). It only takes a few moments to become inspired by his infectious enthusiasm about PBO and the arts.
“The arts have always been a part of my entire life,” Genser says. “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 the Canadian speed skating champion in the 1930s — and a musician but made his living in the furniture business. Above all, Genser’s father had a great love of the arts and he was founder of the Manitoba Theater Center.
“Winnipeg was a cultural mecca, with various types of music and art — and my family was involved in all of it,” Genser says. “I met so many true artists, actors and musicians since very often my parents entertained the performers at our home.”
He recalls the time that world-famous Canadian pianist Glen Gould came to their home and, instead of mingling with the rest of the glitterati, he asked for a bowl of hot water to soak his hands and spent his time in the kitchen, speaking 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 returned to Winnipeg. By chance, Genser, who wanted to make his own way and not stay in the family’s furniture business, met Jules Lederer, the husband of the legendary advice columnist Ann Landers and the owner of Budget Rent A Car. David decided to buy a Budget franchise that would serve Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and parts of Massachusetts.
“That is what brought us to Boston,” says Genser.
At some point, though, Trans America had purchased Genser’s franchise operation from Budget.
“After that my wife and I both became immersed in the art world as collectors of contemporary art and I made the decision to go into the insurance business, specializing in art insurance,” Genser says.
It was a great decision, as the business was successful.
“Today, I insure collectors, galleries and artists throughout 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 was not an early supporter of being in Florida. Years ago, she fought the idea of moving south to a place that had the unflattering moniker, “God’s Waiting Room.” There is no longer any debate.
“Joan said that February is for skiing, and she was unsure about spending our winters in Florida,” says Genser.
But Genser very quickly learned that all of the preconceived notions about Palm Beach were not accurate at all. It was the perfect place. There was a thriving arts community.
“What I have learned to love about Palm Beach is that it is not a cultural wasteland,” he says. “There was a time when most of us thought that there was really no culture in Palm Beach, and of course, that is not true at all.”
Aside from a true love of creativity and performance, there is a simple reason that such a small place could regularly feature some of the most famous artists in the world.
“One wonders how such a small community could have a major opera company, a wonderful regional theater company, a major museum company, as well as a symphony,” says Genser. “This is all possible because there is 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. Founded 36 ago, it is recognized as one of the finest regional opera companies in the country. Many of the greatest living opera singers have performed at 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 will continue to grow. The organization recently purchased a building in the Northwood section of West Palm Beach, and it will house both the PBO administrative offices and the production center.
“We are in a period of expansion with the purchase of that building,” says Genser. “The PBO is in a fantastic position. While I can not speak for the financial success of the other organizations, Palm Beach Opera operates in the black — one of the only Opera companies that can boast this accomplishment.”
The organization has developed programs for youths of all backgrounds across southern Florida.
“I am so proud of what we do to introduce young people to this beautiful world, no matter their background. Art is a gift,” says Genser. “I think at this stage of my life, when I stop being active in Palm Beach Opera, I will probably stop being very active in organizations.”
“I am not a young kid,” he adds. “I feel like at some point I will have to sit back — but, hopefully that won’t come anytime soon.”
On his walks in Palm Beach, Genser has his Air Pods in, losing himself to the sounds of opera or symphony. But today, he says, he is listening to the legendary folk outfit The Kingston Trio. He sums up his passion in the most basic, relatable statement he can, one that has driven him personally and professionally.
“I love music,” he laughs. “What else can I say?”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.