“In a conversation I had with the Premier I said, ‘What are you going to do, build a tunnel then realise halfway through it’s going to cost you more and are you going to stop?’ No you’re not. This is the same thing. This is basic infrastructure for the cultural community. And you know, you should finish it.”

Once the redevelopment is completed, many of the city’s premier arts organisations – including the Sydney Dance Company, Bell Shakespeare and The Song Company – will be housed in the same spot.

This is basic infrastructure for the cultural community. And you know, you should finish it.

ACO board chairman Guido Belgiorno-Nettis

“I think it’s fabulous New South Wales has led with this idea of a precinct,” said Neilson. “I think it is going to be to the benefit of everybody. I think it is worthy of people’s energy to find the time to come to a specific place where there is this aggregation of the arts.”

With a net worth estimated at $1.49 billion according to The Financial Review’s latest Rich List, Neilson said sorting competing priorities for charitable donations was always difficult.

In general, he divides his giving between high-profile arts projects and less visible social projects such as refuges for women and support for refugees.

Neilson’s passion is to see the arts in general being integrated into Australians’ daily lives.

“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,” he says.

Belgiorno-Nettis is confident the ACO will be able to raise the remaining $5m but didn’t expect there to be another single large donation such as that from Neilson.

“We won’t get all of the next five million from just one or two donors,” he said. “There might be one or two quite big numbers and then the rest will be quite small.”

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