When you think of art lovers and Rich 100 members, collectors and patrons such as David Azrieli and Michael Lee-Chin might come to mind. But the pre-eminent name is Kenneth Thomson, Canada's richest man. In 2002, the Canadian art world was pleasantly shocked when word got out of Thomson's plan to donate some $300 million worth of paintings and objets d'art from his personal collection to the Art Gallery of Ontario. At the time, he also announced a donation of $50 million for an expansion of the gallery–with design provided by Canadian-born superstar architect Frank Gehry.
While 2004 hasn't been as grand a year for new art support, there have been some notable developments. In October, the Sobey Art Award offered its second $50,000 prize since its inception, in 2002. This year's winner was Montreal-based artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier. Grocery chain scion Donald Sobey is chairman of the Sobey Art Foundation–the organization that funds the award–as well as chairman of the National Gallery of Canada, and a major art collector himself. The foundation has a mandate to preserve Canadian art from the 19th and 20th centuries, but Sobey explains, “As far as my collection goes, I'm interested in Canadian art from the early 1800s to the 21st century.” His first purchase was a painting of St. Vincent in the West Indies by Montreal artist John Lyman (1886-1967), who was a pupil of Henri Matisse. “I look upon myself, and I think other collectors do, as stewards,” says Sobey. “They really don't own the paintings, they take care of them during their lifetime.”
To quote sculptor Auguste Rodin: “What is commonly called ugliness in nature can in art become full of great beauty.” Jeff Skoll, eBay's first employee and author of the online company's business plan, hopes that the arts can become an agent of change, as well. To that end, he launched Los Angeles-based Participant Productions in January. A media company that focuses its support on “socially relevant, commercially viable” films, Participant has plans to expand beyond movies to such other forms as television, Internet and radio. With nine projects on the go–which range from Arna's Children, a documentary about kids in the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, to Syriana, a feature film about the politics of the global oil industry (with Matt Damon and George Clooney)–Participant, as Skoll puts it, has “quite a bit going on for 10 months in business.” Ars longa, vita brevis.