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The Philanthropists — Bonnie Mah & Anndraya Luui

Bonnie Mah. Illustration by Edward Juan.


“It’s like tree planting.”

In her first year at UBC, needing an elective, North Vancouver’s Bonnie Mah took an introductory theatre course from legendary Professor Peter Loeffler (“a very gentle soul and a true intellectual”), completing her major project on the opening of Gateway Theatre with aplomb. “But what really got me hooked was the first student play I saw: Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. I didn’t necessarily get it, but I was fascinated.”

Meanwhile, a deep appreciation for the arts took shape for fellow UBC grad, Anndraya Luui, at a much younger age. “My mother took me to the symphony, the ballet, the theatre. When you’re a kid, you think it’s normal, that everyone does it.” What the ubiquitous “everyone” does not have is impresario David Y.H. Lui as their second cousin. “Whenever he’d bring one of his Dance Spectaculars to Vancouver—the Joffrey Ballet, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey—his mother always had three tickets for her use, so we often got to see David’s shows.”

Anndraya Luui. Illustration by Edward Juan.

Mah graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Commerce in organizational behaviour and Luui with a Bachelor of Arts in English. The two didn’t know each other in school but are now colleagues in Vancouver’s philanthropic community. Luui worked for several years in retail and marketing. Mah works in pensions and benefits. But each woman’s fascination with the arts and interest in philanthropy and community participation kept growing and ultimately led both to charitable callings.

In 2001, dance aficionado Luui became actively involved with various arts groups, including the trailblazing Centre A. She currently serves on the boards of DanceHouse, The Dance Centre Society, The Dance Foundation, and Wen Wei Dance, and is a prominent supporter of the PuSh Festival and The Cultch. In 2013, she received the Mayor’s Arts Award for Philanthropy from the City of Vancouver.

With priorities of public outreach and audience development, Luui works with Kids Up Front and The Cultch to provide arts experiences for underprivileged youth and marginalized groups.

Mah, ever the theatre buff, has been an Arts Club board member since 2011 and has helped provide scholarships for 15 students through the company’s LEAP program for young playwrights. UBC theatre students can thank her for the endowed Dream Catcher Scholarship. And, in addition to financial support for new play development to the Arts Club and Touchstone Theatre’s Flying Start program, Mah is a benefactor of Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, of which she says, “Getting that ethnic voice onstage is important. And all their plays are new plays.”

She adds, “People ask why we need new plays when we’ve already got, say, Angels in America. Well, even Angels started as a new play. Maybe there’s another Angels in America to be written.”

Mah has a straightforward rationale for her philanthropy: “I have everything I need, and I feel I should give back to the community that has given me so much pleasure and challenged me to think. People in theatre struggle; there’s not a lot of money. I can step up and do my part.”

Luui’s take is more metaphorical, but no less pragmatic: “It’s like tree planting. You may not be around in 30 years to see how they’ve grown. You just do what you can.” Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM


Jerry Wasserman is an actor, critic, emeritus
professor of English and theatre at UBC, and
editor of Modern Canadian Plays. He is editor
and producer of Vancouverplays.com.