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February 24 2020

Donald Ellis Donates $1.5M to the Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Art Gallery has announced a gift of 1.5 million dollars from Donald Ellis for its new gallery in downtown Vancouver. The building will include a dedicated gallery showcasing historical Indigenous art from the Northwest coast. The gift follows a donation of five finely carved silver and gold bracelets and spoons by the iconic Haida carver Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920) in December. Including Ellis’s donation, the Vancouver Art Gallery has raised $86.5 million from the private sector, representing the most money ever raised by an arts and culture organization in B.C. He hopes that other donors will follow suit. 

Speaking in a video posted by the VAG, Donald Ellis said that supporting the new gallery was 'the right thing to do and it’s an extension of what I have been doing my whole career.' The gallery has been exhibiting Native American objects within the context of art rather than ethnography or natural history, working with commercial art fairs, museums and institutions throughout Europe and North America. The VAG is first among art museums in Canada, and possibly in North America, in the way it has exhibited and showcased historical Indigenous art. The Vancouver Sun cites the seminal exhibition Arts of the Raven at the VAG in 1967: 'Curated by Doris Shadbolt, the exhibition marked a fundamental shift in the way a Canadian art institution displayed Indigenous works of the Northwest Coast as art rather than anthropology. A more recent example took place in 2013 in an exhibition of the work of Charles Edenshaw, the great Haida artist considered one of the most important 19th century Indigenous artists in North America.'

Born in Ontario, Donald Ellis has spent most of his time in B.C. for the past eight years. He believes passionately in the importance of a new VAG. 'We need a new Vancouver Art Gallery now because Vancouver needs to decide what it wants to be,' he said. He hopes the new gallery will not only bring together artists and collectors. A more inclusive display could provoke transformational encounters for adults and the younger generation. 'We need this,' he said. 'The community needs this.'

Ellis acknowledges the importance of Indigenous people to the history of the country. In a VAG news release, he said he’s committed to the new VAG building and the potential it has to promote reconciliation through art. Daina Augaitis, the VAG’s interim director, said Ellis’s generosity brings the gallery 'one step closer' to raising enough to build a new downtown art gallery. 'I’m thrilled that he is making such a remarkable commitment to showcase historical Indigenous art in the new gallery building,' she said in a gallery news release.

Read the special announcement from the Vancouver Art Gallery

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Donald Ellis Donates $1.5M to the Vancouver Art Gallery