An open commemorative fan with signatures.
Dame Nellie Melba, Commemorative fan, ca. 1908-1926,

The Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation donated $1 million for digitisation to the National Library.

The National Library of Australia is delighted to announce the generous $1 million donation from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation. This donation will allow the digitisation of part of the Library’s vast performing arts collection, providing greater access for all Australians. 

The National Library has the honour of holding the personal papers of iconic Australian performing artists including Dame Nellie Melba, music educator Miriam Hyde, director and choreographer Sir Robert Helpmann, among many others. 

Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, Director-General of the National Library, described the donation as a generous and timely acknowledgment of Australia’s history in the performing arts. 

'This is wonderfully generous of the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation to the National Library and, in effect, to all Australians, who will have free online access to the rich collections that document the story of the performing arts in Australia,' said Dr Ayres. 

'The Library has an incredible collection relating to the performing arts. This donation will allow us to embark on the digitisation of papers and memorabilia of some of Australia’s most remarkable performers, allowing for a deeper understanding of the work of Australian performing artists, theatre designers, choreographers, and musicians.' 

Isaac Wakil AO, Chair of the Susan & Isaac Wakil Foundation said, 'Susan and I shared a great love of the performing arts, and we took great joy from experiencing the creative work of Australian performing artists over many years. Preserving and sharing these collections online will allow everyone to enjoy these great performances once again, and the Foundation is delighted to work with the National Library to make this project a reality. We hope that it will inspire new generations of creative artists and performers to create wonderful work in the future.'

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon. Paul Fletcher said, 'This generous donation from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation will help performers, artists and others involved in the creative industries to draw inspiration from the collections of the National Library. The collections of the National Library reveal the depth and breadth of how our Australian stories have influenced the performers of the past – and making them available online is just one way they can continue to inspire artistic creativity.'

National Library Council Member and Member for Berowra, Julian Leeser MP said, 'This announcement brings together a wonderful institution, a generous family, and an inspirational project. Susan and Isaac Wakil have been among Australia's most generous philanthropists, and this donation to the National Library is one of a series of extraordinary gifts that they have made to Australia's cultural institutions. All of us in Australia who love the arts owe Isaac and his late wife Susan a very great debt. I am particularly delighted that on this occasion their generosity is to the National Library of Australia, whose extraordinary collections I know very well, and I know that when these rich collections are shared online, they will serve as a joy and an inspiration to many.' 

The National Library’s collection reflects the critical role the performing arts has played in shaping the stories of our country and the importance the arts industry has played and continues to play in Australians cultural lives.    

The Library’s holdings include the enormous archives of J.C Williamson Ltd (1874-1976), for nearly a century the dominant theatrical agency in Australia.  Selections from this collection will be digitised as part of this donation. 

Dr. Ayres said the Library’s fundamental role is collecting Australia’s stories for future generations, ensuring access for all Australians.  

'We are strongly committed to this and it is with the generous financial support from philanthropists such as Isaac Wakil that we can continue the required digitisation work to make collections like these available online to everyone, wherever they are,' she said. 

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Jane Wilson, Media Liaison, National Library of Australia

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