Presentation House Gallery has an international reputation for exhibiting important, exciting photography and other media art – work by local luminaries such as Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham and international superstars such as Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams.
So when local developer, philanthropist and art collector Michael Audain paid his first visit to the storied institution – to see an exhibition of Mexican street photography from the first 40 years of the 20th century – he was shocked by the ramshackle conditions of the place.
"I knew it by its reputation … and I found it hard to believe that a gallery with such a stellar reputation was operating in very small and shabby quarters," recalled Mr. Audain, of the 2006 visit to the gallery.
Housed in an old schoolhouse, the gallery is tucked into a primarily residential neighbourhood of North Vancouver with zero walk-by traffic.
Mr. Audain is helping to change that. On Tuesday, Presentation House, which is planning to build a new facility, announced a $4-million lead gift from the Audain Foundation and Polygon Homes, the company he founded.
The gift – $2-million from Polygon and $2-million from the foundation – means Presentation House is far closer to realizing its plan to construct a new $15-million gallery on the North Vancouver waterfront. It will also see the acclaimed institution, established in 1976, change its name to the Polygon Gallery.
"It's the momentum that we've been looking for and it gets us over halfway to our goal in one quick step and that is gigantic," Presentation House director/curator Reid Shier told The Globe and Mail, emphasizing that the fundraising process is still under way to build a 19,000-square-foot facility at the foot of Lonsdale Quay. The new facility will more than double the current exhibition area, and allow for the exhibition of large-format contemporary works.
"It's a game changer," Mr. Shier said of the new gallery. "It will allow us to be truly ambitious about the scope and scale of the exhibition program that we've always imagined doing."
As a result of the gift announced Tuesday, Mr. Shier said the gallery is "well on track" to begin construction next year, making the new facility "much more of a reality." The plan is for the new building to open in 2017. (That is the same year, incidentally, the Vancouver Art Gallery expects to begin construction on its new facility, should it be successful in raising the funds required.)
This further establishes Mr. Audain as a key cultural philanthropist whose deep impact reflects his personal passion for visual art. Mr. Audain has contributed generously to various institutions, and is now building his own museum in Whistler, scheduled to open next year. The more than 55,000-square-foot facility will house much of his extensive collection of B.C. art, and also have space for temporary exhibitions. The former chair of the VAG's relocation committee, Mr. Audain was named honorary chair of the VAG board earlier this month – the first honorary chair in that institution's history.
Given his philanthropic history, Mr. Audain was a natural for Presentation House to approach and ask if he would consider making the lead gift for its capital campaign. The request was met "extremely cordially and positively," Mr. Shier said.
Naming rights for the new institution were part of the offer. "When we moved into the new building we wanted to move with a new name," Mr. Shier said. "There's a long and storied history with the visual arts community with our name and with our programming, but at the same time we felt the new facility … was going to be so transformational for us that it really made sense for us to rebrand with a new name."
The Polygon Gallery is designed by Patkau Architects (the same B.C. firm behind Whistler's Audain Art Museum). Presentation House has also received $2.5-million in funding from the City of North Vancouver, as well as $1-million in private donations for the project.
"It's been an integral part of the visual arts infrastructure of Greater Vancouver and I think it's wonderful that it's existed for so long in such dreadful quarters," Mr. Audain told The Globe. "And it's high time that they had a new building to complement the excellent program that they've put on."