Little did I suspect when I joined the Federation as CEO just over a year ago what a tumultuous period would await us this spring!
After a wonderfully strong 2019, we enjoyed a powerful opening to this year by showcasing young talent with our FBA Futures exhibition, plus great crowds and sales at the eagerly awaited annual shows of The Pastel Society and Royal Society of British Artists.
But then everything changed and, like the rest of the world, in March, we urgently had to respond to the Coronavirus emergency. We scrambled our excellent team, notified our artists and stakeholders. We then quickly closed our beloved Mall Galleries - simultaneously scaling up our digital operation like never before.
It says a lot about our dedicated staff that, on that last day, we opened the locked door to one lone visitor at the eleventh hour – a lady who had travelled 2 hours to come and see our Portrait Journey exhibit. Our receptionist gave her a quick ‘private tour’ and she then rushed home. Little did she know she was our last visitor to the Mall for what will be many weeks….
The doors may be shut but the message is we are proudly open for business – and our Member artists are more than ever the heart of what we do. We call them the FBA600 (actually the number fluctuates between 580 and 610 depending on arrivals and departures!).
Across our nine Art Societies, they represent the front bench of British painting (and more). They are now, like the rest of us, in isolation, in lockdown, but are highly active preparing and in many cases taking inspiration from the challenge of the times. Tim Benson, President of Royal Institute of Oil Painters puts this across in his inspiring short video.
Over the coming weeks you’ll see more of our artists’ work and stories online and for our current exhibition the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours we are doing virtual versions of tours and demonstrations.
Deborah Walker RI RSMA Be Still
Video links are now a key part of my daily life and it really helps keep our team of 21 or so in touch and motivated on the job in hand. Thinking differently is a key part of our response – as well as planning for a wonderful reopening. We are exploring our first video conference for life drawing with the Hesketh Hubbard Society, and exploring with our portrait artists the opportunity of ‘zoom sittings’. Watch this space!
We’ve had lots of messages of support and goodwill from Friends, supporters, artists and many across the art and media world. And our dedicated board is very active. We have quickly adapted to this new world and it’s encouraging that our first exhibitions online are getting a lot of attention - and audiences are snapping up the artworks (for which thank you).
Do take a look at some of our April initiatives, and I hope you make our website a regular destination. If you don’t already, you can subscribe to our e-newsletter or follow us on social media via the links in the footer.
I do encourage you to join so we can keep in touch with you. There’s lots coming in the next few weeks!
Like many small businesses, and especially charities, the FBA operates on a financial knife edge. Our wonderful location on The Mall is a great asset but it is, of course, a significant cost when we can’t welcome visitors to our exhibition, shop and café; and can’t sell artworks or hire the space. Like other organisations, we are ‘furloughing’ some of our staff so we can keep the expertise available to us when we can’t directly use it – such as our front of house and shop team. We are exploring all funding avenues to help us through. But the hard fact is we do need the public support to keep the ship afloat.
Rob Pointon ROI Visitors the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition
The very best way you can support is to buy a work of art from our online collections or consider a commission. This of course directly provides income to artists who often have no other source. And it makes a critical contribution to our running costs. As well as the current exhibitions we have just launched a new general collection on our Buy Art | Buy Now platform. There is a new free online catalogue for you to browse here.
If you are already a Friend of the Mall Galleries, thank you and please remain. If you are not, please do consider joining, we can offer lots of engagement even in this lockdown.
With best wishes for the Spring