Shaw family donates $35 million to Glenbow to permanently fund free admission and artistic endowment

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The family of Calgary entrepreneur, philanthropist and businessman JR Shaw is donating $35 million to the Glenbow, most of which will be used to enable the museum to permanently offer free admission to visitors.

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This is the largest donation Glenbow has received since it opened in 1976. Although the museum will retain its name, the downtown building that houses it and its collection will be called the JR Shaw Center for Arts and Culture in honor of the businessman who founded Shaw Communications and Corus. Entertainment.

The JR Shaw Free Admissions endowment of $25 million will eliminate general admission in perpetuity, making Glenbow the first major Canadian museum to do so. The remaining $10 million will fund an endowment to establish the JR Shaw Institute for Canadian Art.

The donation comes as the Glenbow undergoes a $120 million renovation, which will completely transform the downtown museum. Nicholas R. Bell, President and CEO of Glenbow, says the JR Shaw Free Admissions Endowment Fund is key to reinventing the institution.

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“It means that every person on earth has the opportunity to walk through our door without questioning whether or not they can afford it,” Bell says. “This is a fundamental mindset shift for Canada.

Nicholas Bell, President and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, which is undergoing a transformation.  Shaw's donation will ensure free admission.
Nicholas Bell, President and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, which is undergoing a transformation. Shaw’s donation will ensure free admission. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

The $25 million will go into Glenbow investments and interest income will replace income that was previously generated from admission tickets.

“We’re basically not losing any money,” says Bell. “We replace that income, so it’s the same in our budget and it’s guaranteed, which is good. So if there was something in our future like COVID, instead of saying, “Well, our tickets just fell off a cliff,” those investments are secure.

JR Shaw was a pioneer in the Canadian telecommunications industry who made his Alberta cable startup one of the largest cable and satellite providers in Canada. He was also a lifelong supporter of Canadian art, amassing a huge collection and befriending artists such as sculptor Joe Fafard and painters David Thauberger and Robert Lemay. His daughter Julie Shaw, who is also president of the Shaw Family Foundation, said she and her three siblings will receive artwork each year for Christmas. Her father died in 2020.

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JR Shaw was an avid art collector and gifted art to his children every Christmas.  In his honor, his family donated $35 million to the Glenbow Museum to fund free admission and create an artistic endowment for internships and exhibitions.
JR Shaw was an avid art collector and gifted art to his children every Christmas. In his honor, his family donated $35 million to the Glenbow Museum to fund free admission and create an artistic endowment for internships and exhibits. Photo by DARREN PIERRE /COLONIST TIMES

“He would get together with Canadian artists, celebrate and ask them questions about what they were doing and who they were,” she says. “Shaw’s art collection was quite renowned, as was his. It’s just a way for us to pay tribute to him. Free admission is something essential for downtown Calgary. It will bring schoolchildren, it will bring families. It’s really going to be a game changer. »

The Glenbow is set to reopen in 2023. But the transformation goes beyond the physical building. Programming will also be revamped and free admission will help emphasize access and inclusivity, Bell said.

“Even the idea of ​​what a museum is comes from hundreds of years of culture in which some people have enjoyed great privilege and others have been entirely excluded,” says Bell. “We know that museums grew out of the European history of exploring and effectively colonizing large swaths of the planet, then trying to understand those cultures by collecting their tangible artifacts and showing them to people to help explain who these people are, who colonize extraordinarily. . For museums to turn the page, to be places where everyone really belongs, they must realize that there are fundamental barriers to participation. In our minds, the main barrier to participation is affordability.

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Glenbow’s evolution will make it more of a community center, where different cultures are not just reflected in exhibits, but presented after consultation and partnerships with members of those communities.

“It’s a very different mentality than museums of just 25 years ago, who probably felt their expertise was in-house,” says Bell. “We’re reaching out to the community and saying, ‘We can’t do this without you. Let’s build a truly fair program.

The JR Shaw Institute for Canadian Art will become a permanent part of the 312,000 square foot museum, offering annual exhibitions, an artist-in-residence program, internships and fellowships. It will have a dedicated gallery and curator.

“The idea is to bring artists in residence and teach children and hopefully we will develop new artists in Canada,” explains Julie Shaw. “When you can see a painter paint and understand how he paints and why, it’s exciting. I think for Calgary, it’s going to be wonderful.

With National Post files

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