UBC expands research into historical Indigenous art through $6 million endowment

UBC alumnus, Michael Audain, OC, OBC, one of B.C.’s most ardent champions of the visual arts has donated $3 million to UBC to create the Audain Chair in Historical Indigenous Art. The gift, supported through the Audain Foundation, will be matched by the university to create a $6 million endowment. Recruitment of an internationally recognized scholar will begin shortly.

“I hope the chair will be an opportunity to enhance the knowledge and respect for historical art making by Indigenous people, both on the West Coast of Canada but also throughout the world. There is a tremendous power and distinction in Indigenous art,” says Audain, chair of the Audain Foundation.

Michael Audain

Michael Audain. Credit: John Lee

The new position will complement UBC’s leadership in Vancouver’s dynamic contemporary Indigenous art scene by studying works from before or around the time of European settlement, in addition to researching West Coast Indigenous artworks in the context of global Indigenous art history.

Dana Claxton, associate professor and head of UBC’s department of art history, visual art, and theory, says the new chair can contribute to research that will encourage a new understanding of Indigenous art, history, and culture. “I’m so excited because this position allows for a very particular, focused time spent with historical cultural objects, historical cultural belongings, and historical cultural production. And any type of reinterpretation of that work […] adds to new ways of being.”

The scholar will have access to renowned collections of Indigenous art and artifacts at UBC—in particular, at the Museum of Anthropology—and across the province. Their work will make a tremendous difference in training future generations of leaders and artists to think beyond their inherited thought processes and reconsider the narratives that have shaped Canada’s history.

“I am so grateful to Michael and the Audain Foundation for partnering with us to make the Audain Chair in Historical Indigenous Art possible,” says Santa J. Ono, UBC president and vice-chancellor. “The deeper knowledge gained by this scholar will help UBC achieve its mission to build cultural respect and promote Indigenous ways of knowing across campus.”

Much of Michael Audain’s philanthropy has been fueled by his love for British Columbia and his passion for the visual arts. He is one of Canada’s leading arts philanthropists and has demonstrated great vision in his support of the arts and extraordinary community service. Audain has served as the chair for the National Gallery of Canada’s Board of Trustees and the Grizzly Bear Foundation, and was the driving force behind Whistler’s Audain Art Museum, which is devoted to exploring B.C.’s history through its artistic heritage.

The Audain Foundation’s commitments to UBC total more than $15 million to date. This most recent gift builds on the foundation’s incredible support of UBC and the department of art history, visual art and theory. Notably, the foundation donated a $5 million gift to help build the Audain Art Centre. Opened in 2013, the centre provides studio, classroom and exhibition space for the visual art, art history and curatorial studies programs. In addition, the Audain Foundation co-commissioned UBC’s Reconciliation Pole, a 55-foot red cedar pole carved by master Haida carver James Hart. The pole tells the story of the time before, during, and after the Indian residential school system.

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