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Ann Packard, MCICH Chairwoman, reflects on the RSA Fellows’ Borders & MCICH Networks Lunchtime Talks at the Borders Art Fair (BAF, 16th-18th March)

Albeit at times beneath scary skies, snowstorms, snowed-in north Northumberland and East Lothian attendees and changed arrangements, the RSA Lunchtime Talks at Borders Art Fair allowed engagement with a purposeful Community Interest Company, a positive example for any Fellows seeking to establish a CIC.

Outcomes have followed, including linking a successful West of Scotland FRSA-led project, Helensburgh Heroes, with an embryonic and different project in the Borders, plus MCICH & Borders Networks’ inclusion at successor BAF events. A further outcome is the engagement of an award-winning designer attendee in a one-off project to assist an RSA Fellow. The Networks record gratitude to RSA Scotland for relevant funding.

All this followed a week in which the MCICH Network, and other RSA Fellows in differing capacities, had been specific invitees at a BEFS-led Historic Environment Working Group half-day Workshop on Historic Environment Scotland’s Strategy. MCICH is involved also in (a) ongoing discussions in respect of a future Advisory Group which may involve RSA Fellows, as well as (b) the design and hopefully delivery of a keynote Edinburgh event in each of mid-May and mid-June to mark 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. It is known a number of Fellows have, in wholly diverse and non-RSA capacities, received invitations to the 2018EYCH Scotland Launch.

Of the three talks at BAF, Janet Archer, Creative Scotland CEO, was at the last minute unable to attend. Her lengthy policy script was read, (and is available from MCICH Chairwoman, Ann Packard via networks@rsa.org.uk), whilst Philip Long (V&A Dundee CEO) was sadly snowed off. The keynote talk by Guy Peploe, Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, was very popular, with rather more seats than Eventbrite indicated being needed.

In his presentation, there was interest in the CIC model in the re-invigoration of BAF and other local initiatives. His talk encapsulated much of that which concerns the RSA – the “Arts” - not the “Fine Arts” but the capacity via arts, culture and heritage to fulfil one’s vocational best and human potential - with “Manufacture and Commerce”, the Scottish Gallery being renowned for both paintings and the Applied Arts. Plus of course Design, given the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, so closely allied to the RSA.

That the Peploe family, over generations, have exercised entrepreneurship, commercial acumen, innovation and leadership in the art world was expanded on with an engaging light touch, blending facts, figures and anecdote. Also, perhaps self-evidently, there were mentions of the exhilaration of both “finds” and the auction room, to spirituality and the health and well-being aspects of arts engagement and, in discussion afterwards, debate of arts in the curriculum. There were references too to the challenges and dangers of being an expert witness in a litigious world, the importance of authenticity, the salience of reputation in evidence-based research and provenance, especially in sales to galleries and museums world-wide, moving thence to allied services – the manufacture of frames for example. Guy outlined changes in the patterns of art consumption and purchasing, mentioning both auction houses local and international, Art Fairs and social media. In all this also he made references to both affordability and the question of client aspirations and motivations.

In an era of “Fake News”, almost inevitably no talk could be complete without one (almost industrial?) manufacturer and commercially oriented faker receiving mention, alerting one to the wisdom of pre-purchase research, provenance and trusted commercially-savvy galleries!

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