Denis Adam leaves behind a rich cultural legacy

Victoria University of Wellington says philanthropist and passionate arts advocate Denis Adam, who has died at the age of 94, will be greatly missed.

Denis and his wife Verna began collecting art in the 1960s, and in 1975 they established the Adam Foundation to manage their growing collection. The Foundation's activities later extended to supporting the arts in New Zealand, with a particular focus on emerging artists.

One of their largest donations was given to Victoria University of Wellington to establish the Adam Art Gallery in 1998. Denis and Verna also supported the creation of the Adam Concert Room and fund the Adam Foundation Prize for Creative Writing, given to the top MA Creative Writing (poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction) student each year at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Most recently, the Adam Foundation confirmed a significant gift towards the national music centre.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says Denis and Verna have made an immense contribution to Victoria University of Wellington.

“Their generous philanthropy, vision and commitment to scholarships and arts initiatives both enables young New Zealanders to pursue their talents in the arts and ensures the University can provide our students with exceptional programmes in Creative Writing, Music and the visual arts.

“Their support of the outstanding Adam Concert Room and Adam Art Gallery has given thousands of people the opportunity to access world-renowned arts and music. The Adam Foundation’s gift to the national music centre will be a wonderful legacy to continue Denis’s vision and inspire others to lead through philanthropy.”

Adam Art Gallery director Christina Barton says Denis was a “wonderful benefactor” whose philanthropy came with no strings attached.

“Denis has made an indelible contribution to the culture of Wellington across all arts—music, literature and visual arts. He has helped organisations and artists over many years and that has made a real difference in this city. He was an open-minded and open-hearted person.”

Denis was of German-Jewish ancestry and spent his early childhood in Germany. His family fled to Scotland to escape Nazi persecution, and he was educated in Scotland and England. He served as bomber pilot in the RAF during World War II under a New Zealand commanding officer, and after the war he emigrated to New Zealand. After working in a factory and a service station, Denis embarked on a successful business career and became a leading philanthropist. Together with his wife Verna, their generosity has transformed the cultural landscape of New Zealand.