Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Chan family donates $40 million to help build new Vancouver Art Gallery

The private donation is the largest in B.C. history for arts and culture, and it brings VAG's private fund raising to $85 million
The design for the proposed new Vancouver Art Gallery has been tweaked with a new glass skin added to the wood inukshuk structure | VAG

Vancouver's Chan family has donated $40 million to help build a proposed new Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), the family and VAG officials revealed at a January 23 event at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. 

The family is headed by Caleb Chan, who runs the Burrard Group. Chan made his fortune from operating more than a dozen golf courses, including Nicklaus North, and and investing in real estate development. 

The donation is the largest private sector donation in B.C. history to an arts and culture project, and it brings the VAG's fund raising for the gallery to $85 million. While the gallery will continue to be named the Vancouver Art Gallery, the building itself will be named the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts.  

The other four largest private donations are all for $5 million, and they are from David Aisenstat, the Diamond Foundation, Brian Hill and Andrea Thomas Hill, and Phil Lind. 

The VAG is now $65 million short of its private-sector fund raising goal of $150 million to build the 310,000-square-foot, 220-foot-tall building on the southern two-thirds of the block bounded by Cambie, Dunsmuir, Beatty and West Georgia streets. It now, however, has momentum.

There is no word on whether the $85 million in private fund raising is sufficient to spur the B.C. government to commit to provide a second $50 million contribution, and to ask the federal government for the $100 million that the VAG needs.

VAG director Kathleen Bartels told reporters after the event, however, that she was convinced that the future gallery was a sure thing. She suggested that construction on the new gallery could start as soon as later this year or early in 2020, and take three years to build.

Provincial Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare did not address the press conference even though she was in attendance. Afterward, she would not commit her government to the second $50 million contribution.

The longest speech was from Herzog & de Meuron partner in charge Christine Binswanger, who intricately detailed the various rooms and floors in the gallery design, which has an exterior that has significantly changed since it was first unveiled in 2015.

Switzerland's Herzog & de Meuron, which designed the structure in partnership with local partners Perkins+Will, tweaked the gallery design's exterior to include a glass skin outside what was previously a wood-exposed structure. Binswanger said that the change was to address concerns about how well the exposed wood would age.

"I'm delighted to hear about the changes in the design of the building, and also about the enthusiastic donors," art collector, philanthropist and Polygon Homes chairman Michael Audain told Business in Vancouver after the event. 

He has not yet donated to the VAG's proposed new facility despite other philanthropy, such as donating $2 million to support the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) in late 2016. He was the driver behind the $42.2 million Audain Art Museum in Whistler.

Audain told BIV a year ago that he was "not interested in making a pledge and sitting there with funds committed for a long time if it is not a strong ability to bring the project off."

When asked on January 23 whether he would make a donation to the proposed new gallery, Audain said, "We'll have to see." .

Indeed, a year ago, the project appeared to be on life support.

A representative for then federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi told BIV that his government would only consider a request for funding if it were asked by the provincial government.

Beare, at the time, sent BIV a statement saying that the VAG had to do more fund raising of its own before it could count on $50 million in additional provincial money, and get the province to ask the federal government to open its wallet to pump in $100 million.

B.C.'s Gordon Campbell government kicked off the VAG’s fundraising efforts in 2008, with a $50 million contribution. Vancouver city council, in 2013, then agreed to give the VAG a 99-year lease on its desired site, which is known as Larwill Park even though it houses a parking lot. That site was valued at $100 million at the time.

The city’s plan was to keep the northern third of Larwill Park and find a developer interested in building an office tower on that land.

In exchange, the city required that the VAG raise $100 million from the federal government and a second $50 million from the provincial government by spring 2015 – a deadline that has since been extended multiple times to what is now the end of 2019.

The $300-million price tag for the project has not been increased to account for inflation. Sometimes the gallery is described as being valued at $350 million, but that includes a related $50-million endowment fund.

[email protected]