Artist Rebecca Salter, the first female President of the Royal Academy of Arts, tells our Fair & Square podcast the challenges of running the institution during and after pandemic lockdown, the central role of education and how, having been rejected herself, she shares artists’ disappointment about missing out on the iconic Summer Exhibition.
“We had no idea what was going to happen…And of course the Royal Academy, not everybody knows this, but we don’t get any public money at all. So the minute we closed our doors, we were losing a million pounds a month and that concentrates the mind,” she tells our podcast host Adam Batstone.
Rebecca praises the ‘unsung heroes’ – the Royal Academy Friends – who kept paying their membership even though they could not visit the RA.
“…we were sort of crowdfunded by them and they are the people that have kept us going. And I know a lot of heroes. It’s the unsung heroes,” she says.
Rebecca says the experience of lockdown meant the RA recognised that the visitors who came to the actual building in London’s Piccadilly was just one kind of audience. Now they are looking at how to extend the reach of the RA using online platforms and content such as video of exhibitions and lectures.
The educational element of the RA – which goes back to its origin in 1768 – is Rebecca’s priority particularly when state education’s focus on important subjects such as maths and science may leave little room for art. She also stresses that the RA’s education was always free, continues to be free and will be free into the foreseeable future.
The RA has a longer term digital strategy to put together materials so teachers in schools can go online and download materials the RA had produced to use as teaching material in class.
Rebecca – who was elected a Royal Academician in 2014 – tells Adam about the process behind the RA’s famous Summer Exhibition and how she sympathises with artists whose work is not chosen as she herself submitted work and was not accepted.
While she continues her work as an abstract painter Rebecca currently stores her work for future exhibition as she focuses on the RA, which beyond art and education also offers visitors cafes and restaurants.
As the first women president she also highlights that an exhibition this autumn by the performance artist Marina Abramovich will be the first time in the RA’s history a woman artist has had an exhibition in the main galleries.