Stories in philanthropy

Putting arts and culture at the centre of philanthropy

A philanthropist described as “Mr Bountiful’’ after a career supporting and promoting the nation’s art and culture is the 2019 Leading Philanthropist.

Philip Bacon, AM, who runs Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane, has been involved in a range of arts organisations, from his current role as chairman of the Opera Australia Capital Fund, to the Queensland Art Gallery – Gallery of Modern Art Foundation, the Brisbane Festival, the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University and the National Gallery of Australia

At the Australian Philanthropy awards at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney on Monday evening, last year’s leading philanthropist Nicola Forrest AO stressed the importance of creative partnerships being at the heart of the nation’s arts landscape.

In the past six weeks, Philip has been named Queensland Community Foundation’s Philanthropist of the Year and admitted to the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame ahead of Monday night’s honour. One of Philip’s referees for the leading philanthropist wrote of him: “He’s a leader by doing good without being found out, content to make his substantial contributions quietly…his professional reputation is rivalled only by his legendary philanthropy and leadership encouraging others to give.”

Philip said he was “overwhelmed” at the honour and was delighted that he was at the Art Galley of NSW, which he described as “one of Australia’s great cultural institutions.”

“It’s the last thing I ever imagined, being named Philanthropist of the Year, particularly having in mind those who have gone before me, such as Andrew and Nicola Forrest last year, and the amazingly generous Ian Darling the year before that,” Phillip said. “What heady company I am in. God knows how.”

Philip Bacon, AM named 2019 Philanthropist of the Year with last year’s leading philanthropist Nicola Forrest.

Philip told the awards’ audience that everyone had a part to play. “For me, the arts are at the centre of the world. My world, anyway. I believe utterly in their importance and know how bereft we would all be if art stopped being made, music wasn’t heard, plays weren’t performed, little girls stopped being taken to the ballet by their grandmothers, and the Sydney Opera House became a museum, because Opera could no longer be afforded,” he said.

“Often when I leave a great performance, I think, ‘Now, THIS is civilisation.’ But, as the Romans and all the others since them have discovered, civilisation comes at a cost. All of us here tonight know only too well how shrinking government support for the arts, for medical research, for education, for so many things that make our civilisation what it is, is impacting on what can be achieved by those in the field.

“And that’s where we come in. We all give, or enable others to give, so that the great work of our artists and performers, our researchers and doctors, our teachers and scientists can continue. We are so, so privileged to be able to help others in their important, often life-changing work. And, it’s fun, or at least, it should be.”

Philip is a funder as well as approaching others for their support for his philanthropic causes. “I’m sure a lot of my friends now cross the road to avoid me. But, as I always tell them, refusal will not offend. And I expect that also of the various organisations that approach me for support. I don’t mind being asked, I tell them, if they aren’t offended if on occasions, I say no.”

Philip recalled that former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill supposedly had an encounter with his advisors during the dark days of World War II about the fate of the nation’s art. “They [the advisors] told him that because of the Nazi bombing, they wanted to remove all the artworks from the galleries, and close down the theatres and music halls. He responded, ‘In that case, what are we fighting for?’

“Whether he said that or not, doesn’t matter,” Philip said. “He could have, and should have. It’s a response I think all of us here tonight would have had in the same circumstances. I certainly hope so.”

Read more about the 2019 Philanthropy Awards.

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