Born in Edinburgh in 1930, Richard has been a major figure in the promotion of European arts for more than 60 years, through the Edinburgh International Festival which he has attended every year since its inception in 1947.
The Honorary Doctorate of Arts was awarded to Richard on Wednesday 27 July and was highlighted in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 13 July by Miles Briggs, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian. The Scottish Parliament offered its congratulations to Richard, commending him on his outstanding and inspirational commitment to the arts sector in Edinburgh, the UK and across Europe.
Speaking ahead of his graduation ceremony, Richard said: “I am so grateful and thankful to Leeds Beckett University for giving me this honour and I’m delighted to be here on this fantastic campus. The world of the university is the most important world that we know of in modern times.
“I am really committed to the idea of the cultural heritage that we all have of Europe. We possess this – it is our birth right. We also possess the energy that comes from creativity. My great friend Joseph Beuys said ‘everyone is an artist’ and by that he meant everyone is born to be creative. Every child, of course, in primary school is creative: they know how to dance and sing and play games. If everyone is an artist from the moment they’re born, what happens at secondary school when people say perhaps art is not the language we use to express our humanity? So my job has been to create the idea that the perfect university is ‘the university of all the arts’. You cannot have a university unless it has identified with every single language of the arts; so I’m so happy to be here on this day when so many people will be graduating in the field of the arts.”
In 1963, Richard co-founded the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh before establishing the Richard Demarco Gallery three years later. For many years, the Gallery promoted cross-cultural links, both in terms of presenting European artists within Scotland and in establishing outgoing connections for British artists across Europe. In the early 1990s, Richard transformed the Gallery into the Demarco European Art Foundation to emphasise the educational nature of his work as Kingston University Professor of European Cultural Studies in the Nineties.
Richard has been a keen promoter of Anglo-cultural links with Eastern Europe throughout his career, introducing the work of many European visual and performing artists to the UK through the Demarco Gallery. During the Cold War, he crossed the Iron Curtain over sixty times.
Speaking about the highlight of his career, Richard said: “The highlight of my career could possibly be this day. This is a historic graduation ceremony because it has attracted the attention of the Scottish Parliament, which has never before happened in Westminster. I’ve found that doing what I’ve been doing all my life as part of my work as a teacher I have aroused the interest among politicians. I am very happy that this has happened and this is a special day, a day of miracles.”
As a result of his seventy years of work, Richard has amassed unique material: including artworks, photographs, as well as audio and moving image material, correspondence, posters, and programmes in the form of a multi-lingual library. This is now on display at the Summerhall performance venue in Edinburgh. However, part of the Demarco Archive is in the collection of The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which was acquired in 1995. The Demarco Archive, as it is now known, has become a unique academic resource for scholars all over the world studying European arts, curatorship, developments in cultural policy, and the history of the Edinburgh Festival.
Over his years of involvement in the Edinburgh International Festival, Richard has put on a wide variety of challenging theatre productions, art exhibitions and other cultural events. In 1972, he transformed The Demarco Gallery into a British version of The Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, in collaboration with Edinburgh University.
For the 2016 Edinburgh Festival exhibition, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is presenting, in collaboration with the Demarco European Art Foundation, an exhibition entitled ‘Richard Demarco and Joseph Beuys: A Unique Partnership’.
As an artist, Richard is represented in over 2,500 art collections, both public and private, including the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Government Collection, the National Gallery of Lithuania and many municipal and university collections.
Richard’s contributions to all the aspects of the arts have been recognised, not only by the British Government with both an OBE and a CBE, but also other honours of a similar kind from Poland, Romania, Germany, Italy, France and the United States. In 2013, the European Parliament gave Richard their medal citing him as European Citizen of the Year 2013. He received this from Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament. This medal was awarded for his efforts in helping to bring down the Iron Curtain through the language of all the arts.
Leeds Beckett University Chancellor, Sir Bob Murray CBE, said: “Richard has long been a supporter of Performing Arts here at Leeds Beckett and was integral in establishing our performing arts teaching provision.
“He commissioned our University’s first performance at the Edinburgh Festival, and our work with the Demarco European Art Foundation has resulted in many student and staff projects being performed at the Festival over the years. Richard’s European connections have encouraged the international developments in Performing Arts at Leeds Beckett and his archive is a crucial research resource for our students and staff; we now have a PhD student working with the archive and several other projects in development.”