The University of Sydney will build the Chau Chak Wing museum thanks to a $15 million gift from the Chinese-Australian property billionaire, Liz Henderson finds.

Dr Chau Chak Wing

Caption: Dr Chau Chak Wing and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney Dr Michael Spence in Guangdong, China, shaking hands on the gift to build the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

The chairman of Kingold Group, Dr Chau Chak Wing, has donated $15 million to establish a museum at the University of Sydney. The new museum will be named after the Chinese-Australian entrepreneur who started his career as a house painter. It will consist of two historic buildings on the university campus, joined by a modern extension.

The redevelopment will create a 6,000 square metre space where the estimated 700,000 items in the university’s three art, archaeology and scientific collections can be exhibited together for the first time. Currently 99% are not accessible for viewing because of limited space.

The collections include nine of the earliest known Indigenous bark paintings from Western Arnhem Land, a 500,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand axe from northern France, and art including works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Russell Drysdale. A special area will be dedicated to a display of Chinese art and artefacts.

“Museums are an important part of city cultural life,” said Dr Chau, who is worth US $1 billion, according to Forbes, and has his own significant art collection at his Imperial Springs resort in Guangdong. “It is a common aspiration of people all over the world to promote cultural heritage, and it’s our responsibility to ensure it is passed on to future generations.”

“In the more than 160 years that the university has been established it has continuously strived for excellence in teaching and research, educating many of the world’s most outstanding individuals,” he added.

“This notion of rigorous scholarship is a view shared by Kingold Group’s corporate philosophy – the relentless pursuit of excellence. I hope that this collaboration will further promote education and enlighten people, building a platform for greater international cultural exchange. This donation is my heartfelt contribution to developing the Australia-China friendship.”

The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, praised the gift and the impact it would have. “This generous donation from Dr Chau Chak Wing is an enormous contribution, which will allow us to finally do justice to these magnificent collections by displaying them together in one building,” he said. “It makes possible the showcasing of some of Australia’s most significant artistic, scientific and archaeological artefacts.”

“The museum will enrich the cultural life of the Australian community and our international visitors and will profoundly benefit the university’s teaching and research. It will give academics, students and the community a new appreciation of the relevance and value of the collections.”

The museum, scheduled to open in 2018, will contain a 240-seat lecture theatre and conservation laboratories along with its suite of exhibition galleries.

Dr Chau’s gift is one of the five largest donations towards the University of Sydney’s Inspired campaign to raise $600 million.

It is not Dr Chau his first multimillion-dollar gift to an Australian university. In 2010 he gave $20 million to fund the Frank Gehry designed Business School building – also named after its benefactor – at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Ultimo where his son, Eric, studied design. He also gave UTS an additional $5 million towards Australia-China scholarships.

Liz Henderson is the editor of Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine.

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