Debate: Richard Demarco

Linda led the Members’ Debate triggered by her motion, on 22 September:

“I thank all members in the chamber this evening who signed the motion, which celebrates the fact that Richard Demarco became 80 years young in July. The number of signatures is a mark of the respect that members of the Scottish Parliament have for Richard Demarco and his work. I proffer apologies from Patricia Ferguson, who was upset when she found out that it would be impossible for her to be here for the debate.

“I found it difficult to write the motion. How does one condense achievements such as Richard Demarco’s into a paragraph? Similarly, how can I do justice to Richard Demarco and his career in just a few minutes in this debate? I am sure that all members feel the same as I do.

“One could list just a few milestones in Richard Demarco’s career. He launched the Traverse theatre and gallery in 1963, and he opened the Richard Demarco gallery in 1966. One can mention his long tenure as director of contemporary visual arts exhibitions for the Edinburgh international festival, his directorship of Sean Connery’s Scottish International Education Trust, and the establishment of the Demarco European Art Foundation and the incredible Demarco archives.

“During his long career, which continues, Richard Demarco has been at the forefront of Scotland in Europe. He has promoted cross-cultural links, taking Scottish art abroad and bringing other European artists here. He has not done so in a timid or safe manner. This is a man who has always taken what others would perceive to be risks—he would perceive his actions to be the right and necessary things to do. His contribution to the understanding of European art between 1968 and 1989, through his journeys behind the iron curtain and his related lecture work, is immense. His drawings, paintings and prints are held in more than 1,200 collections.

“One could also list the honours that have been bestowed on Richard Demarco, aside from his honorary fellowships: chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres de France, commander of the British Empire, Polish gold order of merit and the freedom of ?ód?, and professor emeritus of European cultural studies at Kingston University. Of course, I am particularly pleased that he is a fellow cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana.

“Richard Demarco is a Scot, a Scots-Italian, a European and an internationalist whose worth is recognised the world over. His current work with the foundation and archive has been recognised by the University of Zürich and Washington State University, as well as by educational institutions from Blackhall primary school in Edinburgh to the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Kent.

“That brings me neatly to the educational resource that is the archive, most of which is currently housed in Craigcrook castle in Edinburgh. The castle might be said to be an ideal location. It has had a great history, not least during the 19th century, when it was used for literary soirées attended by Scott, Dickens, Eliot and Hans Christian Andersen. It was the home of Francis Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review.

“I used the word “currently”, because Craigcrook is just one of the locations that has been used for the archive over the years. I am in awe of the tenacity and dedication of Richard Demarco and his team in keeping this national resource together. The archive has not benefited from local or national funding but has been maintained by people who have a love of art and who recognise its importance to Scotland and to the family of nations to which Scotland belongs. Richard says that art is a language that links everything. The archive is a unique resource that links Scotland and Europe through many artists: Abakanowicz, Mach, Beuys, Maclennan, Yule and countless others.

“What a gift to the Scottish nation. What an opportunity for a national institution to cherish and maintain. It is sad that if we are to keep the archive housed it might be necessary to sell some of its assets—unless something is done. I am glad that the Minister for Culture and External Affairs acknowledged the archive’s importance and worth when she visited Craigcrook recently, by assigning officers to look into the funding of archivists. I am sure that she recognises the importance of keeping the Demarco archive in Scotland and I look forward to hearing her response to the debate. Richard Demarco might be only 80 years young, but he should be able to devote himself to promoting and enjoying the archive, rather than having to spend so much time raising money to maintain it.

“When Richard Demarco is honoured later this year by the opening of the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition that will mark his 80th birthday, the collection at Craigcrook will be complementary to the exhibition at the national gallery. I hope that some security for the archive can be achieved now that it has received long-overdue recognition.

“I urge everyone here and beyond to attend the RSA exhibition, which opens at the end of November and runs through to January. I also urge everyone to visit Craigcrook castle and the imminent exhibition of artists associated with the history of the Traverse gallery, the Demarco gallery and the Demarco European Art Foundation from the 1960s to 2010. I had to take a deep breath to say that long title, which reflects Richard Demarco’s long career.

“It was difficult to begin this speech, and it is difficult to end it. I have already made it clear how highly I regard Richard Demarco in a professional sense, but my motivation for requesting this debate to honour his birthday was personal as much as professional. He is quite simply one of the most inspiring and delightful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and spending time with. My respect for him is immense. He has travelled many roads. May he travel many more in his search for Meikle Seggie.”

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