Demarco archive to be saved for nation in £75m Edinburgh art facility

The future of one of Scotland's most important cultural collections is set to be secured in a multimillion-pound new development on Edinburgh's waterfront.

Richard Demarco is renowned for his extensive collaborations with European artists and companies. Picture: Neil Hanna

A permanent home for Richard Demarco’s archive of photographs, documents and publications dating back to the early 1960s would be created as part of a new National Collections Facility for the country’s most important works of art.

The collection amassed by the artist and promoter is expected to be a centrepiece of a £75 million “open house” archive complex for the National Galleries of Scotland, which it is planning to create on derelict land in Granton.

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Scottish architect John McAslan has been appointed to create the new base for the National Galleries of Scotland, which runs three major galleries in Edinburgh. The earmarked site was once home to one of Britain’s first purpose-built car factories and is near the home of Granton’s gasworks, which closed in 2001.

Richard Demarco and Joseph Beuys at Edinburgh College of Art during the installation of Strategy Get Arts, August 1970. Picture: George Oliver. Courtesy of the Demarco European Art Foundation 2016

Demarco, who is renowned for his collaborations with European artists and companies, has spent decades trying to find a permanent home for the archive, which was once held at the old Royal High School on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. Most of it is now held at Summerhall, the arts centre created in the city’s former vet school in 2011 .

The National Collection Facility would give members of the public, art experts, artists and students access to 100,000 works of art dating from the early Renaissance period to the present day, including Scottish artists Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, John Bellany, Joan Eardley, John Byrne, Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Cadell and Alison Watt. The first detailed designs for the facility are expected to be revealed early next year.

Demarco, a co-founder of the Traverse Theatre and the Demarco Gallery, has one of the most extensive archives relating to the Edinburgh Festival, dating back to its 1947 origins. The National Galleries owns a quarter of his archive and is in talks which would see it assume responsibility for the rest.

Demarco, 88, who suffered a stroke last year, said: “I’ve not had a permanent home for the archive since 1973, when I lost my building at Melville Crescent, in the west end.

“I have a responsibility for it as it is a manifestation of Scotland’s unique cultural relationship with Europe. That’s the main thing I’m worried about. Edinburgh and its festival are an international stage.

“At my age, this project in Granton could perhaps mean I don’t see my life’s work disappear down a plug-hole. Around 90 per cent of the people who helped create the archive are dead now.”

A National Galleries spokesman said: “Comprising hundreds of thousands items amassed by Richard Demarco, the archive documents his long career as an artist, collector, exhibition organiser, theatre promoter, educator, and influential advocate for both Scottish and international contemporary art. It holds a wealth of information from the 1960s to the present day and offers a unique record of cultural life in Scotland over the last 60 years.

“The National Collection Facility will be an open house for art and communities, where we care for and research our country’s art collection, providing state-of-the-art spaces and facilities for conservation and study, as well as the management and distribution of the collection, allowing us to share it more widely across Scotland and the rest of the world.”

A statement from McAslan said: “The National Collection Facility will be a world-leading exemplar for the care and conservation of museum collections. It will create a space where the collection can be experienced in a uniquely flexible way by staff and a wide variety of visitors, including the public, artists, academics, curators and conservators.”