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Art & Architecture ‘We don’t want to be second-place to anyone.’ B.C.'s Audain Prize for Visual Art increases to $100,000, joins ranks of Canada’s richest cultural prizes

Philanthropist Michael Audain, pictured here at the Vancouver Art Gallery, funds the Audin Prize for Visual Art through his foundation.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

In a move to increase the visibility of visual artists on the West Coast, the Audain Prize for visual art is more than tripling in value. The recipient of the prize, which recognizes a senior B.C. artist annually, will now receive $100,000 – up from $30,000.

“We’re trying to spread the word about the amazing artists that we have in our province, and I think there was a need to,” says Michael Audain, the philanthropist and art collector who funds the prize through his foundation. He announced the increase on Tuesday. “I think changing the amount of the award helps people understand its significance.”

The recipient will now receive the same amount as the winners of the country’s three other richest cultural prizes, the Sobey Prize for Visual Art, which awards $100,000 annually to an artist 40 and under; the Scotiabank Giller Prize, which awards $100,000 each fall to a Canadian author of a work of fiction in English; and the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, which awards $100,000 annually to the director of the winning film; and the Siminovitch Prize for Theatre, which awards $100,000 annually to a playwright, director or designer (the prize is awarded in three-year cycles).

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“We don’t want to be second-place to anyone,” Audain says. “We’re just so committed to the art of this province.”

A real-estate developer, Audain, who moved to British Columbia as a child from Britain, is a passionate booster of B.C., in addition to being a knowledgeable art collector with an extensive collection.

Lately, he has been spending a fair bit of time in Quebec and says he has perceived “a stronger perception of the cultural stars, so to speak, whether it’s in music or in the visual arts or in theatre.” He says there are some B.C. artists who are world-renowned but are not well known at home. He wonders if the average person on the street is aware of Jeff Wall or Rodney Graham, both international contemporary art superstars and previous winners of the Audain Prize.

“I think we just need to appreciate our cultural heroes more.”

Other previous winners include Robert Davidson, Gathie Falk, Liz Magor, Susan Point, Gordon Smith, Takao Tanabe and Paul Wong.

The Audain Prize was established in 2004, originally managed by the Audain Foundation and later by the Vancouver Art Gallery. As of this year, it will be managed by the Audain Art Museum, the gallery Audain built in Whistler, B.C., to house his collection of B.C. art. Now, the money the VAG had received to administer the Audain Prize will be added to the VAG’s Audain Emerging Artists Acquisition Fund, increasing it to $3.5-million.

In addition to the $100,000 prize, the foundation plans to fund five $7,500 travel grants for students in university visual-art programs.

“Really, our objective is to make people aware of the important artists we have in British Columbia,” Audain says. “I think by doing that, some of them can serve as models for younger people who are studying art and thinking of going into this area of life.”

Editor’s note: (March 20, 2019) An earlier version of this story omitted the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award as one of the country’s richest cultural prizes.

(March 22, 2019) An earlier version also omitted the Siminovitch Prize for Theatre, which also awards $100,000 annually.
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