White Rabbit Gallery founder, collector and art patron, Judith Neilson AM has been awarded an honorary doctorate degree at UNSW for her philanthropy and visionary role in furthering knowledge of contemporary art.

Since 2014, Mrs. Neilson, the founder and director of the renowned White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, which houses one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art, has donated $16 million to UNSW which has gone towards the establishment  of two Professorial Chairs within the Art & Design and Built Environment faculties.

Mrs. Neilson, a trained artist, has been a collector since childhood, but focused on collecting Chinese contemporary art in 1999.

“Chinese contemporary art reflects the history and transformation of China and is a mirror on the world beyond,” Neilson said last year.

“It is alive with ideas and energy, vibrant, often humorous, imaginative, technically superb and utterly compelling.” 

In February, Professor Paul Gladston was appointed the inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art, which received a $6 million endowment in 2017 to facilitate research about global contemporary art.

Gladston, one of the world’s leading experts on Chinese contemporary art and culture, was the occasional speaker at the Art & Design graduation ceremony held 20 June, where Mrs. Neilson received the honour.

“I would like to congratulate Judith wholeheartedly on the conferring of this recognition by the university,” Gladston said

“Judith Neilson’s generosity and vision in supporting the establishment of a professorship in contemporary art at UNSW provides a focus for better understanding of China’s art and culture as well as strengthening of the university’s international engagement.”

The Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture, which was established in 2015 with a $10 million endowment, researches the design of affordable housing for people displaced by natural disasters, geo-political conflicts, economic and environmental factors.

Mrs. Neilson, who was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), said that she was motivated to make a major investment in research to investigate how architecture and design could be used as a powerful force for change.

“I came here from Africa with nothing, and this country has been really good to me,” she said. 

“I feel very strongly about contributing to a greater culture of philanthropy in Australia.

“There’s a big element of good fortune in being wealthy – I believe people have a responsibility to give back.”