Business Leader, Inspiring Philanthropist and Generous Brentwood Grandfather
Widely known for his passion and support for the visual arts, Michael Audain considers himself a bit of a BC nationalist, stemming from his family’s deep roots in the province, which began in 1851 with Robert Dunsmuir’s arrival in Fort Rupert from Scotland.
Paralleling Brentwood philosophy, Mr. Audain also believes that art plays a defining role in the well-being of individuals and their communities. “I’ve always been interested in understanding a nation or region through its artwork. My view is that art is something for everyone…I think art animates communities and adds to the quality of urban life.”
As a result of these two personal convictions, Audain has a long history of activism for and funding of visual arts and culture in British Columbia. Furthermore, as an art collector, he has assisted many BC artists by purchasing and promoting their work.
His lead gift to Brentwood’s new Centre for Art and Humanities is further testament of his commitment to ensuring that people of all ages have the opportunity for exposure to the visual arts. His gift is helping to transform our students’ visual art experience, and to provide all of our students with an awareness and appreciation that art is for everyone.
Born in England, Audain moved to Victoria at age nine. Growing up, he trained three times a week with the Victoria City Police Boxing Club, and boxed with sailors from the Esquimalt navy base, ultimately travelling to tournaments across the Pacific Northwest. Even at a young age, he showed a deep interest in art. At 17 he rode a bus from Victoria to Mexico City to see the works of Mexican muralists of the 1920s: David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.
Obtaining an education dominated the next six years of Michael’s life while attending Victoria College and then UBC, where he obtained his BA and Masters in Social Work. In 1961 while taking a short break from his studies, he found himself inadvertently immersed in the politics of the Freedom Riders movement in the Southern US. Returning to BC after a month in custody, Audain was inspired to take an active role in the creation of the BC Civil Liberties Association, hosting the group’s inaugural meeting in his living room in 1961. He then finished his formal studies with two more years at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.
Ready to establish his career, Audain worked in a variety of jobs – social worker, agricultural economist, housing policy and planning consultant – before founding Vancouver-based Polygon Homes Ltd. in 1980. Under his leadership as CEO and now as Chairman, Polygon has built more than 20,000 housing units across the Lower Mainland, receiving numerous awards for its integrity and building excellence along the way. Audain likes to think of Polygon’s highrises, townhouses and single family communities as frames for public artworks, and is proud of the fact that his company was the first developer in the province to use original “homegrown” artwork in its model homes.
His leadership in business and support of visual arts in BC has been honoured with numerous awards. Michael has been appointed to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, awarded the Business for the Arts Edmund C. Bovey Award, the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, honorary doctoral degrees from three universities, the British Columbia Museums Association Distinguished Service Award, the Vancouver Biennale’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Philanthropy in the Arts, the Simon Fraser University President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award, the Vancouver Biennale Philanthropy in the Arts Award, the Mayor’s Arts Award in Philanthropy, and the Vancouver Board of Trade Community Leadership Award. He is also a Business Laureate of the British Columbia Hall of Fame.
These days, in addition to enjoying his four grandchildren (including Cameron Sutherland, Class of 2011), Michael devotes much of his time to cultural matters. As Chair of the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation and Vice Chair of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation, he has dedicated himself to ensuring the success of major exhibitions and programs at art galleries across the country.
With his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, he also manages the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, which they established in 1997 to ensure that the visual arts in British Columbia and Canada prosper, to attract people to British Columbia to explore our art, and to encourage corporations, individuals, and other potential donors to realize their responsibilities and opportunities to support the arts and culture. The Audain Foundation has donated more than $40 million to the arts in BC and Canada.
Through his foundation’s inspiring donation to Brentwood’s Centre for Art and Humanities, Michael Audain further demonstrates his deep commitment to cultivating an abiding appreciation for the visual arts. And for years to come, the Audain Studio will inspire Brentwood’s visual artists.