Architecture and arts patron Gene Sherman has received an honorary doctorate from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) for her services to art and design.

Sherman is the founder, executive director and artistic director of the Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI), which curates and runs a ten-day architecture festival in Sydney annually. The centre was formerly known as the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF), which commissioned a number of pavilions by acclaimed architects under its Fugitive Structures program, including projects by Ai Weiwei, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, Vo Trong Nghia, Shigeru Ban, as well as Australian practices AR-MA and Andrew Burns Architecture. SCAF itself was a transformation of the Sherman Galleries, founded in 1986.

Sherman was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010, the same year in which she and her husband, financier Brian Sherman, made a $1 million donation to UNSW for the redevelopment of its arts facilities. “UNSW Art and Design is beautifully sited now that the renovations have been completed. The Paddington art precinct has been significantly upgraded with galleries, studios and top-tier facilities,” she said in a speech to UNSW graduates. “Universities represent the most meaningful pillars of my life. Education is what drives me; both the learning that I’m able to deliver to others, and equally, or perhaps even more important, the education that I am constantly building on for myself. You can’t deliver learning to others if you’re not learning yourself. So universities for me are symbolic of that.”

Dr Sherman started her career in tertiary education. She worked as a university lecturer in South Africa and had planned to continue in Australia. Opening a gallery was “a complete side-step”, she said. “I spent 12 years in formal study and had one vision of what I wanted to be, but circumstances forced me to take different paths. I simply had to learn to adapt.”

Dr Sherman insists she hasn’t led a charmed life. The decorated academic and philanthropist had to learn perseverance, she said. Life has made her more resilient and adaptable. “My trajectory didn’t just happen as I wanted it to happen. I had to force my way through multiple difficulties. Everybody in life has obstacles,” she said. This theme of adaptability underscored Dr Sherman’s speech to the UNSW graduating class of 2019 in December.

Sherman was also previously made an officer and later a chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Letters by the French government, and sits on the International Council of the Tate in London.

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