The aim of Project 2022 is to encourage the Scottish Arts Club to look back with pride and look forward with confidence.
The project was started a few years ago after Charlie Scott had pointed out that we would be celebrating our 150th anniversary in 2023. The idea was to have a long-term plan (lasting over several presidencies) to improve the building and increase the membership, but part of the process was to re-discover what we are.
A private members’ club is not going to attract sympathy let alone funding, and we have to be able to articulate a wider, more inclusive purpose. Legally we are a members’ association, and that governs our tax status. We are a licensed club, and that regulates access to our premises. It is important to remember that although we are not a charity, we are a not-for-profit organisation. That doesn’t mean we have to make a loss, but that our aims are not directed at making profits.
Taking all that into account, I firmly believe that our future lies in our past – not in the sense that we have no future, but by realising that only by researching our roots and celebrating our heritage are we able to justify our continued existence.
We were founded by a group of visual artists as a Saturday club, without regular premises. On deciding to buy 24 Rutland Square in 1896, the critical decision was made to open up membership not only to artists in all fields but also to ‘lay’ members. Our very first lay member was Sir Patrick Geddes.
Our aim from the very beginning was to provide a place for artists and like-minded people to meet, and setting aside the, to us, rather startling omission of women from this definition, the Club has been inclusive of all the arts and all those interested in the arts. I have no proof (yet) but I cannot help thinking that having an influential body of men in 1947 who were interested in the arts, such as those who were members of our Club, must have had some bearing on the decision to inaugurate an international festival in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Corporation, were still called the City Fathers when I arrived here in 1965, and getting past them such a revolutionary idea as opening up the city to hordes of foreigners in the immediate aftermath of a devastating war, would have required some powerful lobbying. If anyone has time to research this thought, it would be extremely useful to know.
In the meantime, we are undertaking activities to help international understanding and tolerance by finding out more about other cultures through their art. On 24th June, we have the launch of a book documenting the role of Scots in Poland and there is a Syrian evening on 30th June. We are holding classes in Chinese calligraphy and brush painting, we are negotiating a demonstration of Indian drumming on the 70th anniversary of their independence and Clubfest is again welcoming poets and musicians from Canada.
Art can break down barriers. Since 1982, earlier than many other clubs, we have welcomed women and we are now reaching out to ensure that people from all over the world also feel welcome.
We want people to join our Club, not to be an exclusive group, but to help ensure that 24 Rutland Square will be, as was always intended, a place where artists and like-minded people can meet.