May 30, 2017 - 3:15pm
Vancouver real estate magnate Michael Audain is a major supporter and champion of Canadian art
Business has been good to Michael Audain. Since 1980, the chairman and founder of Polygon Homes Ltd. has put his skills and expertise to work in the Vancouver real estate market, leading his company to become one of BC’s largest homebuilders.
Audain’s success has allowed him to focus on one of his passions: preserving and profiling Canadian art. Over the years he has funded galleries, museums, and visual arts educational programs at the University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University. He and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa has also acquired a renowned collection of Northwest Coast art which is today housed in Whistler’s Audain Art Museum.
In recognition of these significant contributions, Audain will accept an Honorary Doctorate of Laws at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) convocation ceremony on June 6 at 10 am.
“Michael Audain has contributed greatly and generously to the promotion of art in our country, putting into action his belief that art can play a hugely positive role in the well-being of individuals and their communities,” says Heather Pastro, a VIU art education professor and lead nominator. “He has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Canadian artists, thereby enriching and helping preserve the cultural heritage of our province and our country.”
A fifth-generation British Columbian, Audain was raised in Victoria and introduced to art as a young boy on field trips to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where the art of the Northwest Coast First Nations captivated him.
In 2011, when pieces from this private collection were part of a well-attended temporary exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Audain and his wife realized that their collection helps to tell an important part of the story of West Coast art—and they wanted to share it.
“We were surprised by how many people seemed to enjoy seeing the collection,” Audain says. “And we thought that as our house isn’t suited to having people traipse through, we’d better put some of this work where people can enjoy it, a place where children can learn the story of art in our part of the world.”
In 2016 he opened the Audain Art Museum, a new $45 million, 56,000-square-foot museum in Whistler, to house the impressive private collection.
Considered one of Canada’s most outstanding collections, it includes a large group of historic Northwest Coast First Nations masks acquired from private collectors in the United States and Europe and a major collection of Emily Carr’s works.
Educated at the University of British Columbia and the London School of Economics, Audain is proud of his BC roots and the province’s artistic heritage.
“There are significantly more internationally collected and exhibited artists coming out of BC than any other part of Canada,” says Audain. “We punch way above our weight in visual arts. The history of art making on our coast goes back thousands of years. It’s a very sophisticated tradition.”
For decades Audain has dedicated his time and leadership to support the arts in Canada. He is a past Chair of the National Gallery of Canada Board of Trustees and a past director of its foundation. He also served as Chair of the Vancouver Art Gallery and its foundation.
“I like to focus on an area that hasn’t been so popular with the philanthropic public,” says Audain. “People are starting to realize that you can’t have well-balanced communities unless you have cultural facilities. I think it’s changing for the better.”
With similar tenacity, the 79-year-old has recently taken on another new interest. In 2016, after a close encounter with a grizzly bear and her three cubs, he founded the Grizzly Bear Foundation to focus on the conservation of the species in Canada.
Audain has been appointed to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. He has received honorary degrees from four universities—the VIU doctorate will be his fifth—as well as the Queen’s Diamond and Golden Jubilee medals.
To learn more about VIU’s 2017 Convocation Ceremonies, click here.
Dane Gibson, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
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