A visionary giving strategy for visual arts

Michael Audain: A visionary giving strategy for visual arts

“Art comes from a desire to do something other than what we already have,” explains Scott Watson, Head and Professor at UBC’s Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory. “It’s fundamentally about how we can create a better world—and that’s a social function.”

As part of a strategic initiative to promote BC’s rich tradition of visual arts and its pivotal role in our social and cultural identity, UBC has been a privileged beneficiary of arts philanthropist Michael Audain, Chairman of Polygon Homes Ltd.

A three-time alumnus of UBC (BA‘62, BSW’63, and MSW’65), Audain’s dedication to improving communities began back in the early sixties as a researcher studying residential segregation in Memphis, Tennessee. His strong belief in civil rights prompted Audain to support the Freedom Rider’s non-violent activism movement protesting laws that segregated white and black Americans in public facilities. His idealism landed him in a maximum security prison cell in Jackson, Mississippi for one month. This experience propelled Audain to help launch the BC Civil Liberties Association and become involved in the peace movement and Vietnam War resistance.

Supporting the Arts is one of the ways Audain continues his humanitarian work today. Over $10 million has been invested in UBC’s Faculty of Arts—he is the largest individual donor to the faculty. This generosity has significantly impacted three important areas: curatorial education, exhibition opportunities, and public spaces.

Thanks to the Audain Foundation, endowments that augment the Critical & Curatorial Program and provide financial support to students have been created.
A major bequest to the Museum of Anthropology helped establish the Audain Gallery, a 5600 sq ft exhibition on world art and culture. Additionally, the Foundation recently made another extraordinary gift—a ceremonial club that once belonged to Captain James Cook. Crafted by the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, the artifact is the first and only of its kind in Canada today.

A recent $5 million gift from the Audain Foundation will found the Audain Arts Centre, a cutting-edge facility that will unify the Arts Department, which is currently spread over four buildings and two campuses. Spanning four levels in the Ponderosa Commons, the new space will feature a spectacular art gallery, professional studios, and flexible study space for 500 students

“Having these facilities together will make for a much more dynamic program and greatly increase student interaction,” explains Watson. “For the first time since the department was founded, we have centralized the studio program.”

Because of the valuable support from the Audain Foundation, UBC can further its commitment to promoting the culture and creativity of the province.

“These donations allow the department to position itself as a leader in curatorial studies,” says Watson. “UBC is a major actor in BC culture. We train artists; we train curators. We have something to do with the future of the art of BC. Michael’s gifts help to ensure that this future will come into being.”