Western Australia’s Andrew Lu is shaping a personal philanthropic path that supports Australia’s contemporary arts while preserving the country’s often forgotten artistic heritage.
Dr Andrew Lu’s philanthropic journey started at the tender age of five, when he began helping his mother with her volunteering work in the community—an important part of the family’s routine.
“My mother would bake something, she would coordinate something. She was and remains very generous,” Lu explains. “As a young person, all I had to give was my time. I didn’t have any special skills. What I had was enthusiasm.”
The visual and performing arts were an important part of the Lu household and young Andrew learned piano and violin.
“I’ve always lived with art and with the arts,” he explains. “We had pictures on the walls, we had music and everyone in the family played an instrument.”
“When you’re give the opportunity to play an instrument as a child, it gives you access to another language,” he says. “Making music with others is great fun and it’s enriching and encourages the kind of team work that can be valuable in later life in the way that team sports can be too.”
For Lu, who was born in London to Asian parents, the arts were a valuable means of making sense of his new home in Australia, to which he migrated in the 1990s.
“Perhaps because I was a migrant to this country, I struggled initially to come to an understanding of it,” Lu explains. “The arts were a way in which I came to understand, not just contemporary Australia, but how the country got to be where it is.”
“I have a lot of respect for artists. The role of the arts is increasingly important because we live in conservative times and artists are able to respond to contemporary issues in a way that is very articulate. They can be provocative in reflecting what society values.
“In business or law we talk about innovation in technology and problem solving, but artists are constantly innovating in their manipulation of materials to articulate ideas in original ways. They take established techniques and rules and break them to extend boundaries. The results can be extraordinarily good or spectacularly bad, but artists are always prepared to challenge.”
After graduating law school, Lu’s enthusiasm and love of the arts spurred his involvement in pro bono legal services while working at Freehills.
“I started volunteering with the Arts Law Centre of Australia and met mature artists of distinction who did remarkable work and had excellent reputations, but lived frugally and could not afford legal advice,” Lu says.
“There is a power imbalance between artists and galleries or publishers or landlords. The artist might do very generous work, but creative development is attenuated and a lot of the work is not remunerative. Artists are vulnerable to exploitation. This is especially true of Indigenous artists, whose intellectual property can be their only significant asset.”
Andrew taking part in a performative drawing situation in New York City, with Gosia Wlodarczak during her Australia Council studio residency at the Greene Street studio in Soho.
Lu’s practice of philanthropy is articulate and considered. Integrity and trust are two core values that guide his giving which focuses on the visual and performing arts, preservation of heritage, social justice and education.
“Trust is an important value and it takes time to build,” Lu says.
“In my own experience, that often begins through engaging initially as an audience member or subscriber which might lead to you becoming a donor at a modest level, then over the years you might make larger donations or become involved with the organisation’s board.”
One of Lu’s more recent philanthropic passions is heritage preservation, which includes conserving and restoring pianos of historical significance.
“Australia has produced many great pianists and there are important pianos of quality in this country that have fallen into disrepair or have been forgotten,” Lu says. “This included the piano brought to Australia on HMS Sirius, flag ship of the First Fleet.”
“To our north, China has 40 million piano students. They consume most of the world’s production of pianos, but these students have yet to discover the experience of playing or listening to Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven on a piano from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for which their keyboard works were composed.
“Australia is like a piano ark and whether it is Melba’s piano or Edmund Barton’s piano, these objects should be conserved. The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University is an Australia centre of excellence for this research. Our intention is to preserve these pianos so that modern audiences can engage with those voices of the past after 200 years of being dormant.”
Preserving art for posterity is an integral part of Lu’s philanthropic vision and intended impact.
“I want to be as responsible as I can be with the art I have,” he explains.
“I live with art and I collect in depth and I like to follow careers, such as that of Gosia Wlodarczak, so I see myself as more of a custodian than an owner. I’ve begun to give more significant works by contemporary Australian artists to public institutions because I trust the conservation and storage of the large public art museums.
“Philanthropy in the arts is not about buying immortality—it’s about making art accessible or giving it a boost.”
As a leading member of Australia’s next generation of philanthropists, Lu made the decision to speak publicly about his giving in the hope of inspiring others to give. Philanthropy, he says, is often misunderstood.
“I think there are still a number of myths about philanthropy being for people with grey hair and lots of money. The two things don’t go hand in hand because there are plenty of young people who’ve done extremely well and have capacity to give.
“My advice to anyone who’s starting out in philanthropy is don’t be afraid to build relationships with the organisations that do the work you like and respect. Establishing deeper dialogue and engagement will be more fulfilling over the longer term and you can be part of that organisation or artist’s journey and they can be part of yours.”
Some art works Andrew has donated to public art museums in Australia recently:
Left - Portrait of Geoffrey Lancaster by Jude Rae, National Portrait Gallery Canberra, 2014
Top left - Desire 2 Beo (suite) by Gosia Wlodarczak, National Gallery of Australia, 2013
Top right - Unveiling of the First Fleet Piano at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University, Perth, 2016
Bottom - Desire 2 Phantom (suite) by Gosia Wlodarczak. National Gallery of Victoria, 2017
Dr Andrew Lu is a lawyer and company director, and a member of Philanthropy Australia’s New Generation of Giving program.
He is a director of the Arts Law Centre of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation, and has served as Deputy Chair of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and on the advisory boards of the ANU College of Law and the Australian Music Foundation.
He is a Life Governor of the National Gallery of Australia, a Founder Benefactor of the National Gallery of Victoria, a Governor of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation, and a Benefactor of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
He is a Patron of ArtSource, and a supporter of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. He won the Professional Services Category of the Business News 40 Under 40 Award in 2017, and was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2008.