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Richard Demarco’s art treasures find a home

Celebrated arts figure Richard Demarco last night received the Edinburgh Award. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Celebrated arts figure Richard Demarco last night received the Edinburgh Award. Picture: Ian Georgeson

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

ONE of Scotland’s most significant art archives is finally set to win a permanent home, after ministers stepped in to secure its future.

Richard Demarco, a key cultural figure in Scotland for more than half a century, has revealed moves are finally under way to find a permanent home for his vast collection of artworks, memorabilia, and photographs.

Some of the nation’s leading arts bodies are to join forces to find a fitting location to house the Demarco Archive and allow proper access to it for the first time.

Demarco has had to move the archive, which is said to contain around 4,500 individual works of art, around Edinburgh several times since the closure of his permanent gallery in the city’s west end in 1974. And he has often been dogged by financial difficulties and run-ins with the authorities.

His archive is currently split between the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, which will be represented on a new working group to find a permanent home for the archive, and the arts centre Summerhall.

Yesterday, Demarco – famed for bringing avant-garde art from around Europe to Edinburgh as far back as the 1960s – gave The Scotsman a guided tour of his base at Summerhall, in the city’s former vet school, and revealed how much of his archive is hidden away from public view in cramped store rooms.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop is understood to have personally brokered talks to get a taskforce off the ground, which will draw up a series of options for the future of the archive. It will also involve the National Library of Scotland and arts agency Creative Scotland.

Last night, Ms Hyslop described the Demarco Archive as being of major cultural significance to Scotland and “a unique record of international development in the country through the arts in the post-war years”.

The plans emerged as Edinburgh-born Demarco was given one of the highest civic honours in his home city – a decade after he found himself at loggerheads with council leaders over the cost of storing his archive in one of its buildings.

The 83-year-old, who co-founded the city’s Traverse Theatre and has been involved in the Edinburgh Festival every year since its inception, having first attended as a schoolboy, admitted he was keen to see the future of the archive secured while he was still alive.

At least 250,000 photographs are in the Demarco Archive, along with work by artists from more than 50 different countries, and hundreds of his own paintings and drawings. He believes the entire collection may be worth anything between £15 and £20 million.

Demarco, who set up his own gallery in Edinburgh in 1966, said he felt there had been momentum to give his archive proper recognition since he was honoured as European Citizen of the Year last summer. Months later, city council leaders announced he would be the next recipient of the Edinburgh Award.

He said: “I don’t really see it as an archive myself, it is more like a total work of art. It would be a disaster if its future is not secured before I pass away. I really want to see this resolved.”

 

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