Leaky condo developer Michael Audain uses art at Polygon's corporate offices


Published on Straight.com Vancouver (http://www.straight.com)

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The reception area, hallways, and offices of the Polygon Group are filled with the art of this place. Paintings and prints by Gordon Smith, Jack Shadbolt, Don Jarvis, Takao Tanabe, Alan Wood, and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun reveal the love and commitment of Polygon Homes Ltd. chairman and CEO Michael Audain. He is an ardent supporter of British Columbia art and artists. "I'm interested in the province," he says simply. "I feel very much at home here." His Dunsmuir ancestors, he explains, came to B.C. from Scotland in 1851. "I'm the fifth generation of my family to live here."

Audain talks about how fascinated he has recently become with the indigenous art of the Northwest Coast. He draws a line through traditional Northwest Coast art, Emily Carr, the West Coast modernists, and on into internationally recognized contemporary artists, such as Jeff Wall, based in Vancouver. "We've got a visual-art tradition that goes right through our history," he says. "And it's something I think we need to celebrate more and support more--substantially more."

A long-time collector and cultural philanthropist with an unconventional vocational history (before entering business, he held a number of jobs, including social worker, housing-policy consultant, and agricultural economist), Audain served on the Vancouver Art Gallery board from 1992 to 1998, including two years as its president. He is currently the chair of the VAG Foundation, working to establish a permanent endowment dedicated to operating costs. "My aim is to have the endowment there at the $5-million level by the end of the year," he says, adding that it eventually should reach $25 or $30 million.

Through his own family trust, the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts in British Columbia, established in 1997, he has supported a long list of exhibitions, events, and publications, and this past June he donated an unprecedented $2 million to the VAG to establish and fund the new position of curator of B.C. art. The foundation had already made a generous impression with the April launch of the first Audain Prize for the Visual Arts, in support of senior B.C. artists.

"The prize originated through conversations that I had over a number of years with Tak Tanabe," Audain says, referring to the senior West Coast painter and arts advocate. Tanabe was a tireless and ultimately successful lobbyist for the creation of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts. "Tak felt there should be a juried award in the arts community," Audain explains. "Recognition for artists from their peers."

The Audain prize may involve jurying and recognition by the arts community, but the money isn't coming from that impecunious lot. It's coming from the Audain Foundation, which is setting an optimistic example for potential donors. "I'm hopeful that corporations and private individuals will start to step up to the plate more," Audain says, "and realize their responsibilities to support the arts and culture generally."