The deadline for artists submitting work for the annul RUA exhibition is midnight on 15 June and the exhibition itself opens 14 October. Meanwhile there is good news from the President Denise Ferran that a permanent home for the RUA has at last been found in a fine old building called Riddle’s Warehouse on Ann Street, Belfast which is close to the Law Courts. The building has been bought by Hearth, an associate company of the National Trust, with a loan of £500,000 from Ulster Garden Villages Ltd and will need complete renovation. But the annual exhibition which attracts about 80,000 visitors each year, will continue to be held in the more spacious Ulster Museum.
While having a permanent roof over their head will be a great step forward for the RUA, establishing a secure source of funding for the future is their real problem. Unlike the RHA in Dublin, the RUA is in receipt of no public funding at all. Not a penny from the Northern Ireland Arts Council! With philanthropists as scarce on the ground in Belfast as they are in Dublin, Belfast City Council is probably their best hope. Their only substantial sponsorship at the moment is through a £15,000 annual subvention from accountants KPMG. Elsewhere they raise about £7,000 for prizes to the exhibitors. The late lamented Basil Blackshaw was a member of the Honorary Council of the RHA (as is Brian Ferran) and several RUA members like Rita Duffy, Graham Gingles, Hector McDonnell, Anthony Scott and Brian Ballard are regular exhibitors at the RHA annual exhibition. But there is room for much closer co-operation between these two academies whose common interest is the education and promotion of Irish artists. Of course, the RHA is by far the larger and older institution.
To coincide with the opening of the exhibition in October, the RUA is hosting a seminar on ‘The Role of Academies in the 21st century’ at which Christopher Le Brun, President of the Royal Academy in London, Mick O’Dea, President RHA, and hopefully Arthur Watson, President of the Royal Scottish Academy will join Denise Ferran in Belfast. No doubt there will be a lot of talk about art – but probably even more about money.