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Whistler’s Artsy Endeavour

The Audain Art Museum aims to raise the standard of culture at BC’s premier mountain resort.

15 December 2015
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Suggested tweet: It’s about to get artsy in Whistler with the new Audain Art Gallery goo.gl/M7SsQF #explorecanada

It’s about to get artsy in Whistler, British Columbia.

Scheduled to open in January 2016, the Audain Art Museum aims to add a dynamic cultural dimension to this renowned ski town. Currently under construction amid the evergreens along Blackcomb Way, the 5,200-sq-m (56,000 sq-ft) exhibition space will showcase premier art from the Pacific Northwest, complemented by rotating collections from around the globe. “The museum will attract visitors to Whistler who aren’t coming for skiing or mountain biking,” says AAM Executive Director Suzanne E. Greening.

Founded by Vancouver homebuilder and philanthropist Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, the AAM is to serve as a permanent home for Audain’s extensive private collection, which he meticulously acquired over the past half-century. While Audain had always intended for his collection to end up in the public domain, museum inspiration hit following a trip to France, where the couple toured a similar-concept gallery founded by a fellow private collector.

When, in 2012, Audain proposed Whistler as his museum’s location, it collided with serendipity—Whistler municipal council had recently commissioned a study to explore enhancing the area’s cultural tourism offerings. Audain’s museum fit like a ski glove. “A lot of people who come to Whistler, especially international visitors, fly into Vancouver International Airport and head to the resort via car or bus—and that’s their experience of Canada,” says Greening. “We have a great opportunity to give them a cultural taste while they’re here.”

Vancouver-based Patkau Architects designed a “quietly elegant” building that blends into the native hemlock and spruce trees and stands in concert with the mountain surroundings. “It was important to Michael that trees not be cut down,” Greening notes.

Inside, more than 900 sq m (9,700 sq ft) of the AAM is devoted to artwork from BC and the Pacific Northwest. “Though a boutique collection, it’s still some of the best art that has been produced in BC,” says Greening. This permanent collection consists of over 200 pieces, from pre-European contact to contemporary, including two dozen works by Emily Carr and one of the finest historical First Nations mask collection in the world.

An additional 780 sq m (8,400 sq ft) is reserved for rotating collections. Planned exhibitions include Mexican Modernists and Quebec Automatistes. Event space, a museum shop and a “sensual” walkway with a panoramic view over a nearby meadow comprise the rest of the space.

Though the museum hopes to become financially self-sustaining, Audain has committed to fund the $35 million construction, donate the very best of his private collection and provide a $25 million endowment for operations. For its part, Whistler offered the 1.22-hectare museum property as a 199-year lease. “We are a collecting institution, so our collection will grow,” says Greening.

The planned January opening of the AAM coincides with Whistler’s 50th anniversary—fueling hopes that as the museum grows, so too will the variety of visitors to BC’s most famous mountain resort.

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