President’s Report on Developments to date and Future of the RGI (2008)

I do not know whether being President in days of yore was a sinecure but in recent times the number of issues has grown and grown. In 2007 we inaugurated an ‘ideas sub committee’ which meets every 2 weeks for coffee in the morning at Renaldo’s or Gizzi’s. By the end of October it had met 9 times. Regulars were Jeremy Armitage, Karin Currie, who prepares the Agenda and the Minutes, Simon Laurie, Alastair Mackenzie, and Lynn Wolfson. From this work and other factors my Index of Topics has leapt to 39 separate headings many liberally sub divided.

Great fun it is but a sinecure it is not.

The main thrusts are the inevitable issues of Sponsorship: Awards: Money: The Annual Exhibition: Publicity: and the RGI Kelly Gallery, and the McLellan. Each has exploded into activity. Last year was highly successful. We are all upbeat with each of these with the exception of the McLellan.

Sponsorship and Awards

The year started with setting up the already announced Inverarity Award working with Hamish Martin. This wonderful prize proved to be a catalyst for many of the main topics I’ve just mentioned. Apart from the award to the artist funding worth £10,500 over 3 years came from Arts and Business Scotland (A & B) to help our costs in promoting the award and the Exhibition. This was paid up front to the RGI.

The multilayered nature of the award meant a close relationship with Inverarity. Their name will crop up time and time again. They have also opened a retail shop below The Glasgow Art Club. Members were invited for an inaugural glass of Champagne before coming round to the RGI Kelly for the opening of the Christmas Postcard Exhibition. If you have not visited the shop please do so at your convenience. They have supplied all our functions save the Exhibition at The Mitchell. We are very grateful to them and try to give them something back.

City Sites Estates created a £1000 prize, Montague Evans through Bill O’Hara gave £5000 for the coming year and we now have 2 more prizes to be consolidated.

Publicity

Back to the Catalyst and A & B. With the tie up between Inverarity and this government body came the need for more Publicity, and through the Sub Committee came PR Continuum and Pamela Baillie. The Council asked her to promote the main Exhibition and perhaps include the Postcard Christmas Exhibition starting just after the end of The Mitchell event rather than award an annual contract. Pamela put in far more work than was estimated for her fee to make up time. She quickly identified that the media were NOT interested in the RGI nor knew us. Through her tremendous energy, and contacts, and knowledge she proved our ambitions for the Exhibition and the McLellan were DOOMED unless we changed our approach. We have to make ourselves known!!

This touched base with all our ambitions in all the council members at the same time. Everything seemed to come together. The result was large Press coverage all over Scotland, and this has continued this year with, for example, Tony Currie’s “The Art of the Radio Times” RGI Kelly lunchtime Lecture, and George Devlin’s 2 Page interview in the Evening Times following his Luncheon Demonstration. Consequently Council has offered her an annual contract to publicise the full RGI programme. This no longer is the Autumn Exhibition only but stretches over 12 months of the year with the RGI Kelly Gallery Exhibitions and lectures, Argyll exhibition at Crinan with the driving force of Frances Macdonald and her family, and all the other RGI activities. We include any news of RGIs which she would of course handle. Please let us have a note of your Artistic activities which we can add to the web site news and wider publicity if possible.

The Exhibition

Has had difficulties every year since leaving the McLellan and 2007 had additional problems for our Secretary Lesley Nicholl, Simon Laurie, and PR with the squeezing of dates for set up time by the new Mitchell Administration as they found their feet. From any point of view I thought it a great success and our thanks go to Simon as Convenor and his full team. New labels were designed, a new banner outside caught the eye, the adjustment to the catalogue cover made easier handling, the upgrade of the members’ evening to music all contributed. The financial report shows the success of this.

The Varnishing Dinner

In the year 2006 we had no Lord Provost, and no City representative to open the Exhibition. Last November The Lord Provost Bob Winter together with his wife dined with us and the Deputy Provost Alan Stewart opened the Exhibition. With our mind on Sponsors and funding prizes the emphasis was on Donors as well as winners. Thus Award representatives sat with their Winners and were called upon to present the appropriate prize personally to his or her winner.

RGI Kelly Gallery

2 years ago Sandy Murphy and Jimmy Watt surprised us all by showing the RGI Kelly Gallery was unpopular with Artists because of lack of sales and public participation. We started immediately to change this by adding to the yearly circular giving in advance the future exhibitions in the RGI Kelly, web site (www.rgiscotland.co.uk) adverts MONTHLY to 200 RGI members who have supplied their e-mail address. If you want to add yours to the list please pass it on to Lesley at the office as we want to build the list and postage is prohibitively expensive. Inverarity offered to help artists with wine at discount and publicity for openings if they wanted. With them and A&B we hosted 2 evenings, all of A&B’s Glasgow clients, and a WRAP with Glasgow Gallery owners and other bodies in Glasgow interested in art.

At this time we also found the Gallery intimidates passers by from entering.

Partly to counter this from the subcommittee came a series of Luncheon encounters. Karin Currie, Lyn Wolfson, Ann Laing and welcome camp followers put together promotion, light eats, Inverarity supplied the wines, from 12.30 to 1pm and they invited guest speakers for the strict period of 1-2pm. The start was a brilliant, fascinating, and moving address by Evelyne on her childhood in occupied Paris and France- so much of which we knew nothing about. It was a triumphant start continued by James Spence and on into 2008 as already mentioned. The RGI-Kelly is functioning now on a 12 month basis. We are promoting business functions in the middle of Exhibitions as well as lectures making it possible for others to see the works and feel at home in the Gallery.

The McLellan Galleries

Has exercised the Council since we left. It has been very frustrating and very difficult to determine even the ownership in the transfer of properties from the City to the new Culture and Sport Glasgow Trust, and even more difficult to determine who are the decision makers. The confused picture of 2007 has only now been made clear in 2008 and we are now talking to everyone we can with influence.

We are responding to the position that the City does not have the funds, nor the uses for the Galleries. Consequently we see it as our duty to preserve the galleries for the citizens of Glasgow after the current occupancy by the Glasgow School of Art comes to an end. This requires organising and then presenting a solution to the City for the preservation of the biggest single Exhibition space in the West of Scotland. Everyone agrees it needs to be done but there is no will, and we must provide that. By ourselves we will never be back in the McLellan.

We intend to raise our profile and inject the notion of our indispensability to City of Glasgow decision makers. A beginning has been made. We are applying for a civic reception to mark our 150th Anniversary in 3 years time. We have intimated we will organise an Exhibition of Commonwealth Artists or Art in 2014 when the Games come to Glasgow. We will organise an Umbrella Group of bodies interested in using the McLellan on a regular basis of sufficient strength to give the Galleries the occupancy they need.

These are middle and long term aims. The Art School has a lease to 2010 renewable annually till the new International Campus is built on Garnethill. Realistically this is bound to run over schedule and may not even be completed by 2014. I am happy to say we have revived our connections with the Art School and our 2 generous prizes have been re-established. Problems over timetables have been resolved and our awards will be made in May/June with a special luncheon there at the end of the academic year and prize winners called back for acknowledgements in November for our Exhibition events.

This is what your Council has done, is doing, and will do. Should you feel you have personal input to make on any of the topics please let me know Now is the time we need to form subcommittees of expertise even though the aims are long term.

We have been very lucky in the makeup of the Council. They are full of vim, vigour, verve, and enthusiasm. Those leaving are bound to be called upon for occasional duties and hopefully back on Council in the future. The Council and RGIs are forging ahead with a closer relationship where one can help the other and I really felt this was achieved at a recent meeting.

Members DO like to know, see and experience the personal touch, chat, identify the creator of a work in which they are interested, and as sales are an issue this would I think encourage buyers. Every year at the door I have to say to quite a few, Sorry, an enquired of RGI is not here tonight. The prizewinners also like to get the feel of who exactly are RGIs and experience the quality of work necessary. For the 2 opening nights of the Exhibition hopefully new suitably designed name tags proclaiming them RGI will be worn. I think this would give RGIs an increased awareness of how important they are to the success of the Institute.

Website

Soon all RGIs will have images of their work beside their names on our site http://www.rgiscotland.co.uk. A link, where they have a web site, can be established to them through ours. Thus an enquirer on their site can link to ours at the RGI with its history, programmes, and ambitions for that enquirer to appreciate the kind of body that has honoured the Artist.

We are giving every assistance to make these ends easier.

If you have experience which would help with any of these topics please volunteer your help. Your Council wants the very best for the Institute, its Members, and its Elected Fellows. It works on specific projects. Help, advice, is required for each of these – not necessarily a year to year commitment to the Council itself but for a topic in which you are interested, and that topic only perhaps.

We hope to hear from you.

Gordon C Macpherson

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