The Royal South Australian Society of Arts was established in 1856, and has since had a remarkable turnover of esteemed artists, members and fellows.
Dedicated to showcasing and facilitating the work of emerging artists, the Society operates diligently to host exhibitions, competitions, workshops and classes across South Australia – however, the majority of South Australians have little to no knowledge of the association’s existence. This year marks the 160th year of the Society’s operation, and marketing executive and long-time member Jack Condous hopes that this will be one of the biggest years for the society to bring its work to the forefront of the Adelaide arts scene. Based in the stunning heritage Institute Building (first floor) on the corner of North Terrace and Kintore Avenue, the RSASA presently comprises over 400 members headed by a council with a director, a president and four vice presidents. The location is home to the Society’s office, workshop space and gallery. “This building was the first school of arts [in Adelaide] and is the oldest arts society in Australia,” Condous says. “We are making a valuable continuous contribution to the arts in South Australia.” Initially established as the South Australian Society of the Arts, the royal charter was granted by King George V in 1935, which the society acknowledges by displaying its original logo and emblems in the Institute Building in a homage to its extensive history. Boasting a lineup of previous members including Hans Heysen, Nora Heysen, Margaret Preston, Jeffrey Smart, Jacqueline Hick, Ruth Tuck and Geoff Wilson, James Ashton, and Harry P Gill from the early 1900s, fellows of the society have been pioneering forces in laying the foundations of South Australia’s visual arts culture. The RSASA has also worked to showcase Indigenous artists, and has seen desert painters engage with the organisation as well as exhibiting the work of Albert Namatjira. The association was a pivotal influence in the formation of the University of South Australia’s School of the Arts, Architecture and Design, and continues to work alongside the faculty through the Friends of the South Australian School of Art (Friends SASA). Now, the Society is looking to broaden its scope further and focus on assisting young emerging artists in establishing their presence. “While [the association has] a history, it’s also got a contemporariness of operation,” Condous says. “There’s some fabulous contemporary organisations that young people can belong to, but with our society you get the tradition of the history. Young emerging artists can see the stepping-stone by exhibiting alongside an established artist, and [experience] the mentoring, networking and facilitating that can occur by older experienced artists.” The Society tries to collaborate with universities, art schools and institutions as much as possible. Recently, the RSASA worked with the Helpmann Academy to provide art graduates with an opportunity to exhibit at the society’s gallery space during Fringe and SALA, as well as offering graduates free membership. The organisation is currently working alongside the University of South Australia for its 25th birthday together with Friends SASA by selling works donated by members and friends of the society to fund scholarships for students of the School of Art. The RSASA is a not-for-profit organisation, and runs off donations and sponsorships. Condous reveals that the Society is in the midst of processing the legal bequest of artist Malcolm Carbins and his wife who left their estate to the organisation, which will hopefully be used to fund scholarships for young arts students once approved. “Adelaide is an arts-cultural society,” he says. “I’ve got kids that live in Victoria and I see what’s happening there because they’ve got the population, but we’ve also got something pretty smart happening in Adelaide because of the community and their interest in the arts. I think the answer is networking with these organisations and linking with [associations like] Helpmann, linking with universities and arts organisations and pooling your resources.” The organisation is currently working with young volunteers to make information about the Society accessible via social media in the hope of reaching as many young emerging artists as possible. The RSASA is currently showcasing a variety of works in their Fringe exhibition Out of the Box at the Institute Building, and will see the third iteration of biannual event Characters of the Fleurieu take place at the Signal Point Gallery in Goolwa this April. The RSASA office is constantly buzzing with activity, whether hosting an exhibition or a sketching class, and visitors are always welcome – next time you’re on North Terrace, make sure to stop by and uncover the treasure that is Australia’s oldest arts society. rsasarts.com.au