The following article appeared on the website ThinkScotland on 21 August 2013.
On Monday this week, I had the pleasure of presenting influential Scottish artist and pioneering art impresario Professor Richard Demarco CBE with a European Citizen’s Prize during a ceremony in Edinburgh in recognition of his decades-long efforts to bridge cultural divides between Western and Eastern Europe.
The European Citizen's Prize was launched by the European Parliament in 2008 to recognise exceptional achievements by Europeans. It can be awarded for activities that either facilitate cross-border cooperation within the EU or promote better mutual understanding and closer links between citizens or Member States.
I first met Richard Demarco at the opening of the Traverse Theatre in James Court, Edinburgh, in January 1963. I was staying with my sister at the time, who was at Edinburgh Art College. She was helping out with the opening night and I was invited down to the pre-theatre reception where I met Ricky, the theatre’s co-founder, under rather inauspicious circumstances. Soon after, a friendship flowered and 20 years later, Ricky invited me to join the Board of his art gallery.
Together, Ricky and I conspired on many major arts projects for Scotland. When, as Leader of Kyle & Carrick Council in South Ayrshire, I was appointed as a trustee of the fabulous MacLaurin Art Gallery in Alloway, I relied heavily on instruction in fine art from Ricky during the purchase of an extensive collection of sculptures and paintings, including a superb draped-reclining figure by the celebrated Henry Moore. The work, which I bought for around £40,000 is now worth many millions.
Since becoming an MEP, I have invited Ricky Demarco to the European Parliament several times, to host art exhibitions, give lectures and talk to politicians. He brought some of the greatest artists of the 20th century to Edinburgh, such as Joseph Beuys, Paul Neagu, Marina Abramovic and Tadeusz Kantor's Cricot 2 Theatre Company. Ricky crossed the iron curtain over 100 times during the Cold War to bring innovative and revolutionary artists to Edinburgh and the West. In 1995, he famously brought a group of artists from the besieged city of Sarajevo during the Balkans Conflict, exhibiting them alongside a young and then unknown artist called Damien Hirst.
He has been recognised for his pioneering work in the arts by the award of medals and honours from Poland, Romania, Italy, France and many others countries. He has countless honorary professorships and doctorates from universities throughout the US and EU. He was himself Emeritus Professor of European Culture at Kingston University from 1993 to 2000 and was awarded the OBE and then the CBE in the UK.
As Edinburgh’s festival rages on around us and with Ricky now in his 83rd year, it is worth remembering that he was integral in helping establish the festival as an international cultural event in its own right, having attending each one since it began in 1947 and working tirelessly to help grow this annual arts extravaganza.
His visionary intuition and deep sense of European culture, which is still an inspiration to young and old alike, made him the perfect candidate for the award of the European Citizen of the Year medal. He is in fact the first Scot ever to receive this honour and he will be formally invested as a European Laureate by the President of the European Parliament - Martin Schulz - at a special ceremony in Brussels in October.
I was greatly privileged to have nominated him and indeed I am privileged to have known and worked with Ricky for the past 50 years. He is a true European and a true friend.