RICHARD DEMARCO FEATURE
how we’re only putting on serious theatre,’ etc, etc . . .
I go to see downstairs where there’s a whole room piled high with old theatre and gallery programmes, I talk to the woman who’s carrying out thousands of pounds’ worth of renovations on a budget akin to an entry in the Fringe Programme, I nod politely to some of the 28 volunteers who are working overtime all for the Demarco cause and I listen in to a running debate about cash-ﬂow and box-ofﬁce accounts and who’s allowed to have what money. Money? What money? And ﬁnally, very ﬁnally, I manage to pin Richard Demarco down to something akin to a two-way conversation.
Demarco may be a charmer, you might even call him charismatic, and deep down he’s a tough cookie who knows how to getjust what he wants, but what is really persuasive about him is that his heart is in exactly the right place. He has a mission and he believes in it implicitly. The chaos, the craziness, the way that at any one time there are either too many phones ringing or too many people to answer them, all this might be frustrating, but it is perfectly in keeping with a philosophy that puts art ﬁrst, admin second. In these times of arts council bureaucracy, when arts organisations are expected to behave like ruthless free-market sharks, this is a deeply unfashionable philosophy. But there is a refreshing air of shoestring passion at Demarco — what people like to refer to as that original Fringe feeling — and you can see why it is infectious. Demarco and his band of happy helpers are doing it because they want to.
So much for the romance. But as the people who ran last year’s FEAST venue will tell you, eagerness, commitment and good will don’t pay the bills. And even the briefest scan across this year’s Demarco European Art Foundation listing — a remarkable collection of dance, theatre and visual art from Sarajevo, Bucharest, Brazil, Hungary, Macedonia, Bulgaria, you name it — suggests that someone somewhere is going to have to write the odd cheque or two. So, not really expecting a straight answer, I ask Richard Demarco how he does it. ‘I’m always worrying about the cash-flow,’ he says. ‘FEAST weren’t worrying about the cash-ﬁow.’ Yes, but there‘s cash-ﬂow and there’s cash-ﬂow. It’s one thing having a team of accountants, but something else altogether when you decide to invite 32 Estonians to do a foreign language Romeo and Juliet in your courtyard. So how does he do it? ‘Well I gave the International Festival £2.3m worth of art exhibitions over the years.’ he says with no apparent regard to my question. ‘And I’m still prepared to do that if Brian McMaster is interested. It’s a very bad mistake for the Festival not to include visual arts. In Europe you would never ﬁnd the separation between visual arts and performing arts.’
If my question about how he does it ever sunk in. it is already forgotten. Demarco is too busy warming to some of his favourite themes — that the intemationalism that was once the raison d’etre of Edinburgh in August is becoming a paler thing by the year, that our desire for laughter has become an act of desperation, that art is being trivialised, paintings banged away behind bars instead of being displayed in ‘serious’ spaces. ‘If you start doing that you’re involved in a kind of heresy,’ he says, ﬁring opinionated broadsides in every direction. ‘Once you say the place is “cultured”, the last thing you will ﬁnd is culture. What you will ﬁnd is hype and the make-do-and-mend version of
culture. Culture cannot happen because you say it will happen. When Europe was changing,
living, he can stay true to his purpose. Properly subsidised, he’d lose his drive. He needs to be
when everything was being questioned, when different, to beaway from the mainstream, tobe
we were being given the biggest challenge: “What were you doing Richard Demarco?” I couldn’t have said, “Well, I just chose twenty of the best stand-up comics!” ’
Later, I make another attempt to ﬁnd out how he does it —just holding on to St Mary’s School from one Festival to the next costs £38,000 — and he mumbles something vague about ‘fund- raising exercises and friendship’, but he’d rather talk about why he does it. ‘I’ll tell you why we’re doing it,’ he says, saving me the bother of asking. ‘If we hang around any longer it’s too late. We’re sending signals up: we don’t care about you, Estonia; we don’t care about you, Latvia; we can ﬁt you in between three stand-up comics, followed by two stand-up comics followed by a comedy duo.’
The Demarco genius could probably only exist on the outside. A Demarco who wasn’tjust getting by, winging it, chancing his arm, would be a duller creature. Under-funded, scraping a
‘You don’t stop making art it you’re a real artist. You don’t stop till you die. You don’t retire. You have to
make use of limited
time so you can hand
on the truth to future generations.’
championing the underdog. ‘I don’t want to be associated with the successful Kantor,’ he says. ‘I want to be associated with the vulnerable Kantor that I brought here, the vulnerable Beuys that I brought here, the vulnerable Ruby Wax, the vulnerable Clive James . . . I’ve got a funny feeling that even ifl was given all the money in the world, it probably couldn’t be better. What I’m doing here is something I’ve done all my life. What I am is a teacher. There are three areas where you don’t stop doing it: you don’t stop performing your priestly ofﬁce, you don’t stop teaching and you don’t stop making art if you’re a real artist. You don’t stop till you die. You don’t retire. This is a princely, aristocratic work that demands that you do it till the end of your days. You have to make use of limited time so you can hand on the truth to future generations.’ 0
The Demarco European Art Foundation runs throughout the Festival at Albany Street/York Lane. See Festival Art section for Exhibition details.
‘Art originates in the meeting of friends’ - a brief look at some landmarks in the career of Richard Demarco.
150-62: Visual Arts Co-ordinator of Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop.
153-67: Founder member of the Traverse Theatre Club and Director of the club’s gallery.
156: The non-proﬁt-making Richard Demarco Gallery opens in Melville Crescent, the ﬁrst of nine locations it will occupy in Edinburgh before closing in 1992. The Gallery also commits itself to promoting the performance arts, and later plays host to Lindsay Kemp, Harrison Birtwhistle, Clive James, the Wooster Group, Jim Sheridan, Ruby Wax and many others.
1%7: ‘The Edinburgh Hundred’ — ﬁrst of sixteen exhibitions of contemporary art presented by the Demarco Gallery at the Edinburgh International Festival.
1970: Joseph Beuys visits Scotland for the ﬁrst time. During the Festival, he participates in ‘STRATEGY: GET ARTS’, a ground- breaking exhibition of contemporary work from Dusseldorf that provokes acclaim and
of Art authorities require the Demarco Gallery to erase all traces of theexhibition. 1972-73: Tadeusz Kantor, the pioneering Polish theatre director is invited to Scotland by Demarco. Kantor’s Cricot 11 Theatre present The Water Hen and Lovelies and Dowdies at the Forresthill Poorhouse. Sean Connery asks Demarco to direct the Scottish International Education Trust.
1974: Demarco introduces Joseph Beuys to Jimmy Boyle. They later make several visits to see Boyle in the Special Unit of HM Prison, Barlinnie.
censorship. Afterwards, Edinburgh College ~
1979-80: The ‘Edinburgh Arts Voyages’ circumnavigate the British Isles aboard ‘The Marques’, a replica of Darwin’s ‘The Beagle’.
1984: A twelve-day ‘Demarcation’ conference focuses on Art and the Human Environment.
1988-89: Festival productions of Macbeth on Inchcolm Island.
1991: The Demarco European Art Foundation is established to further cultural contacts with post-Communist eastern Europe.
1992: Richard Demarco Gallery closes. 1993: Demarco appointed Professor of European Cultural Studies at Kingston University. The Demarco Foundation takes over St Mary’s School as ‘a house for the arts’.
1994: The Demarco Foundation presents a diverse Festival programme of visual and performing arts, including work from the Obala Gallery, Sarajevo.
(Ionian Joseph aim «www.mwmm. me. Photo: Ollu'r
J The List l9—25 August l99411