Arts philanthropist awarded honorary doctorate

20 May 2021
Nelson Meers AO receives Doctor of Letters
Nelson Meers, a leading advocate of Australian cultural life and arts organisations, has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.
L-R: University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AC, Nelson Meers AO, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Annamarie Jagose

L-R: University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AC, Nelson Meers AO, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Annamarie Jagose. 

For his outstanding contribution to civil service and the arts, Mr Nelson Meers AO has received an Honorary Doctor of Letters.

The doctorate was conferred by the University of Sydney Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson AC, on Friday 14 May 2021.

“Without the arts, the disadvantaged in our community are further impoverished,” Mr Meers said.

These were more than mere words from Mr Meers: through the Nelson Meers Foundation, he realised a dream of philanthropically supporting organisations that produced innovative cultural programs, with a focus on the performing, visual and literary arts.

One outstanding example is the Foundation’s support of the University of Sydney’s Widening Participation in English Program.

In the program, University of Sydney academics visit disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney, regional and rural NSW to bring literature and the humanities to life, and to introduce students of low-socioeconomic background to the possibilities of tertiary study.  

Mr Meers’s connection to the University extends to his time as a law student. After graduating from the University of Sydney, Mr Meers was a solicitor before devoting himself to civil service. He served as an alderman for the City of Sydney for six years, where he was noted for his advocacy for residential regeneration of the Sydney central business district, which included the restoration of the Queen Victoria Building. Mr Meers was also Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney City (1978) in addition to Lord Mayor (1978-80).

In June 2005, he was awarded an Order of Australia for his service to the preservation of Australian cultural life through his support of arts organisations.

The Nelson Meers Foundation has funded over 100 projects, from over 70 organisations across Australia. Recently, the Foundation supported the University’s newest museum – the Chau Chak Wing Museum, helping enhance the University’s reputation as a creative and cultural history hub.

“Nelson strongly advocates for visible philanthropy, believing that anonymous giving does little to encourage others and implies a passive role in the giving process. Through this advocacy, he has been instrumental in influencing the thinking and general wellbeing of the community,” said Ms Hutchinson.  

“Through decades of civil service and philanthropic giving, he has shown commitment to inclusion, cultural tolerance, and individual wellbeing. This commitment will continue through the Nelson Meers Foundation, ensuring an ongoing and profound impact upon the arts in Australia.”

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