Betty Amsden didn’t get involved in the Melbourne arts scene until she was in her 70s, 20 years later she is being made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her service to the field.
“I’m a little awe-struck,” she told AAP.
“It’s a big responsibility.”
Ms Amsden has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours for her work with the Arts Centre Melbourne, the Australian Ballet School, Orchestra Victoria, and Victorian Opera, among others.
This year she sponsored the Play Me I’m Yours program that allowed Melburnians to tickle the ivories of 24 pianos located around the city in what she said was an attempt to help them feel connected to the arts precinct.
A City of Melbourne assessment of the program found 98 per cent of participants felt happy after playing along.
Eighty-three per cent felt inspired and 75 per cent felt creative.
“It has made me so proud and so, so thrilled,” Ms Amsden said.
Ms Amsden is no stranger to being honoured for her philanthropy, having already been awarded a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2002.
But when she looks back on her years of philanthropy, the moments she finds most rewarding aren’t the medals or the accolades, they’re the personal tokens.
She recalls the story of a young, disadvantaged woman who couldn’t afford to buy a stethoscope after being accepted into medical school.
Ms Amsden donated the money, and received a “most gorgeous, gorgeous letter” in return.
The AO recognises not just her contribution to the arts, but her involvement in the Melbourne community broadly.
Ms Amsden is also involved in Guide Dogs Victoria and the RSPCA and says she wants to nourish and support future leaders.
“I think that middle management of any organisation is very much forgotten and I like to encourage them to advance themselves and empower them,” she said.
Former Melbourne Lord Mayor John So was also made an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to local government.