A home made possible by philanthropy: ACO in The Neilson at Pier 2/3 in the Walsh Bay Cultural Precinct. Photo by Nic Walker

An unanswered letter that (eventually) led to a $3 million gift is just one of the fascinating stories behind the winners of the 2022 Creative Partnerships Awards.

The annual awards run by Creative Partnerships Australia celebrate exemplary individuals from Australia’s philanthropy, business and arts sectors who show leadership in private giving, philanthropy and business partnerships with the arts.

“The sustainability of our cultural community relies on a strong and dynamic relationship with philanthropy and business – it is a partnership that provides reciprocal value to both the arts and its diverse range of supporters,” said Creative Partnerships Australia CEO, Fiona Menzies when the awards were announced last month…

Let’s take a look at the winners.

Philanthropy Leadership Award – Neilson Foundation  

For an individual, family, foundation or other entity whose contribution to Australia’s culture of giving has made a significant impact and promoted the value of arts philanthropy.

In the past 15 years, the Neilson Foundation, led by Kerr Neilson and his daughters Paris and Beau, has gifted more than $140 million to nonprofit organisations. More recently the foundation has been instrumental in helping numerous arts organisations survive the pandemic.

With a focus on building capacity and maintaining long-term relationships, the foundation invests in projects that bring about long-term transformation. That is certainly the case for Bell Shakespeare, Griffin Theatre and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, which have all received game-changing gifts from the Neilson Foundation in recent years.

Here are six things to know about the Neilsons and the projects they have funded.

  1. That unanswered letter was sent by John Bell, the founder and artistic director of Bell Shakespeare, in the early 1990s. Its recipient, Kerr Neilson, was in the throes of setting up Platinum Asset Management and never replied. In an interview with the  AFR, Neilson said the oversight had weighed on him over the years. But persistence paid off and, in 2016, he accepted an invitation to attend a screening of Kings of Baxter, a doco about the staging of Macbeth at Baxter Juvenile Centre on the Central Coast in NSW. That experience led to nearly $1 million in funding to Bell Shakespeare’s education programs, giving 197 youth inmates and around 40,000 students exposure to Shakespeare’s plays. Then in 2021 came the $3 million gift – the largest single donation in the history of Bell Shakespeare.
  2. That $3 million will fund a venue called The Neilson Nutshell at Bell Shakespeare’s new home in Sydney’s Walsh Bay Cultural Precinct. The name references a quote from Hamlet: “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Putting his name to the new studio was uncomfortable for Kerr but he told the AFR he hopes his transparency will encourage others to be more generous.
  3. Known as Australia’s Warren Buffet, Kerr Neilson is ranked 111 on the 2022 AFR Rich 250 List with an estimated wealth of $1.26 billion.
  4. Griffin Theatre’s relationship with the Neilson Foundation began with an early-pandemic phone call from Paris Neilson. “We almost fell off our chairs,” Griffin’s chair Bruce Meagher told The Sydney Morning Herald. Two donations of $50,000 culminated in a $5 million gift earlier his year. That gift is also Griffin Theatre’s single largest donation since it was founded in 1978. It will go towards buying the company’s historic home, the SBW Stables Theatre in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
  5. For more than two decades the celebrated musicians of the Australian Chamber Orchestra rehearsed in a bunker under Customs House in Circular Quay. Their dream to relocate to the new Walsh Bay Cultural Precinct was looking precarious when the Neilson Foundation stepped in with a $5 million donation in late 2019. “Somewhere down the track we are going to have to take the arts seriously and treat them as part of our entirety not some segregated nice-to-have,” Kerr Neilson told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time. Abundant light and spectacular views greeted the musicians as they moved into their new home in January. From March, audiences have been treated to music that matches the view – in the ACO’s new performance space, The Neilson.
  6. The arts is not the only area that benefits from the Neilson’s philanthropy. They also fund charities that work towards social cohesion, specifically those that assist individuals and communities facing extreme disadvantage.

Philanthropy Leadership Award – Paul Taylor   

Arthur Boyd’s Sleeping Bride 1957-58 is one of the most significant individual works of Australian art in QAGOMA’s collection. That painting was one of several artworks gifted to the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art by Paul Taylor.

The Head of Investments Australia and Portfolio Manager of the Fidelity Australian Equities Fund, Paul, alongside his wife Sue and daughter Kate, is a donor to Queensland Museum, Brisbane Writers Festival, Brisbane Festival, Institute of Modern Art, National Gallery of Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Art Gallery of New South Wales.

An avid art collector, Paul is also committed to creating greater public access to art. He has led the campaign to digitise QAGOMA’s collection, raising more than $4 million to date.

Business Leadership Award – John Albrecht   

For an individual working in the business sector whose exceptional leadership, advocacy and example has contributed to Australian cultural life by encouraging increased investment and engagement between business and the arts.

“It is a profoundly special sanctuary for the nurturing of people and the art they want to practice,” is how John Albrecht has described Arts Project Australia. For more than a decade Albrecht has been in partnership with the social enterprise that supports artists living with intellectual disabilities. Together they have held high profile art auctions for APA artists and recently created a traineeship program.

Born into a retail family – his father Kurt owned Australia’s oldest jewellery retailer, Kozminsky – Albrecht is now the owner and chairman of Australia’s largest fine auction house, Leonard Joel. In his role, John has introduced new policies regarding the consignment of Australian Indigenous art. 

Beyond his support for the arts, John is on the board of IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). Leonard Joel developed and adopted an industry-leading policy relating to the cessation of auction trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros’ horn. John is an advocate and activist for animal welfare for the wider adoption of this policy and industry change.

To hear more about the partnership between Leonard Joel and Arts Project Australia, join us at ArtsRaise in March 2023.

Emerging Philanthropy Leadership Award – Helen and Melissa Macfarlane  

For an individual or partnership new to the philanthropic sector and whose leadership and contribution to the arts is shaping the future of philanthropy and private giving in Australia’s cultural sector.

Helen Macfarlane and her daughter Melissa established The Macfarlane Fund in honour of the late Don Macfarlane. A philanthropist and former CEO of packaging company Amcor, Don was a life-long arts enthusiast.

Designed to support and champion Australian artists across their careers, the Fund has three key streams for graduate, mid-career and senior artists:

  1. The Kyneton Residency that helps graduates transition to the professional art world by offering a self-contained, live-in studio space and participation in a group show.
  2. The Biennial Commissions, a major exhibition series in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art that commissions new work from mid-career artists at a critical moment in their career.
  3. The Don Macfarlane Prize, a $50,000 prize with no required outcome that celebrates senior Australian artists who have taken risks, achieved significant breakthroughs, inspired others and maintained a commitment to mentoring emerging artists.

Arts Leadership Award – Barbara Moore

For an individual whose work in the arts and cultural sector has had an exceptional effect on the promotion of private sector investment into Australia’s cultural life, demonstrating vision, commercial acumen and strategic thinking in their engagement with donors and business, and encouraging increased giving to the arts.

“One way to think of the Biennale of Sydney is as a test lab for contemporary arts and culture – we are ever evolving in response to changing needs of artists and audiences,” said CEO of the Biennale of Sydney, Barbara Moore.

Established in 2023, the Biennale of Sydney is the third oldest biennale in the world after Venice and São Paulo. An enormous undertaking, it has commissioned and presented works of contemporary art from more than 1900 national and international artists from more than 130 countries.

Barbara joined the organisation in 2012 and prior to her appointment as CEO led the Biennale’s development team, rallying support for the arts through Australian and international governments, corporate partnerships, philanthropy and major donors.

The Biennale was in good shape when Barbara assumed the helm in June 2019. In 2018, a record 850,000 people visited the event held over three months from March to June. But just 10 days into the 2020 Biennale, COVID-19 closed the event down. Like many other cultural organisations, the Biennale of Sydney reinvented itself online and managed to reopen later in the year for 136 days. More than 310,000 visitors attended in-person and a staggering 4 million visited online. Earlier this year, the 2022 iteration featured more than 330 artworks by 89 participants from 30 countries and 400 events.

The 24th Biennale of Sydney will take place on 9 March – 10 June 2024.

Arts Visionary Award – Ulrike Klein AO 

For an individual who has made a significant contribution to the arts over a period of time, leading to a new understanding of the arts in Australia and enabling the presentation of art that would not have been possible without philanthropic support.

In the Adelaide Hills some 35 years ago, the co-founder of iconic Australian skincare brand, Jurlique, began holding chamber concerts at the factory and farm where her products were created. Ulrike Klein sold the business some years later and the new owners’ decision not to continue with the concerts set her on a philanthropic path.

The German-born horticulturist grew up playing the violin. Her first project was to fund rare instruments valued at more than $6 million to be loaned to the Adelaide-based Australian String Quartet. An even more ambitious project sits atop Mount Barker. The multi-million-dollar Ukaria Arts Centre, a 220-seat auditorium designed for chamber music, opened in 2015.

Of her contribution, Ulrike told Philanthropy Australia, “I often think about how rewarding is it to live in a country where we built a future, and philanthropy, to me, is being part of building a future.”

For more insight into fundraising for arts and cultural organisations, join us at ArtsRaise in March 2023.