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The South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts was formed at the very beginning of the new millennium. The first idea came from Brian Bearne, auctioneer and great supporter of the arts. He believed that there should be an organization for the South West of England "with the objective of bringing together the Fine and Applied Arts, at the highest level". Inspired by this idea, a small group of artists including Alan Cotton, and Brian himself met to lay the foundations for the new organization. Soon recruited to this group of Founding Academicians were artists Anne Arnold, Kevin Jones, Laurel Keeley, Mary Lou Matson, Michael Morgan, Alan Peters and Gentian Sims.

Many artists and supporters of the arts mustered under the banner. Tragically, shortly before the first exhibition was due to open, Brian Bearne died. There was one moment of hesitation about whether to continue, but Brian's idea now had a life of its own. The Founding Academicians were determined to build for the future and create a true academy. Alan Cotton became the first Chair of the Steering Committee whilst the Constitution and Trust Deed were being formulated, and the enterprise was underway. The inaugural South West Academy Open Exhibition opened in the Summer of 2000.

From its earliest years, the Academy's Open exhibitions attracted a huge response from artists from the South West, across the UK and also from many EU countries. We are proud to have numbered among our academicians such distinguished artists as Sir Peter Blake RA, Sir Terry Frost RA, Mary Fedden RA, Ken Howard RA, Colin Hayes RA and David Leach OBE. The Academy was also nurtured in its early years by a number of invaluable donations including the Drecki Legacy, which is commemorated now in the Annual Drecki Lecture Series. Thanks to the generosity of many sponsors, the Academy was able to begin facilitating the support of individual artists in the South West through awards given at the annual Open Exhibitions. The Academy was also helped immeasurably by the Friends of the Academy. Their untiring support has made so much of the Academy's work possible.

From the beginning, a core aim of the Academy has been to encourage and develop the visual arts amongst young artists from an early age. The Academy has staged several major exhibitions of the work of children and young artists on specific themes. The 2003 exhibition was shown at the International Children's Centre in London, and then went on to tour California. The following year the Academy was invited to stage the exhibition at Greenway, the National Trust Gallery in the grounds of Agatha Christie's old house overlooking the River Dart. You can find out more about subsequent events and the educational mission of the Academy here.

As will be evident from the foregoing history of the last ten years, the Academy has stayed true to the mission of promoting excellence in the Fine and Applied Arts, at the same time as establishing a fine record of exhibitions and educational events in the South West. But time moves on, and nowhere faster than in the world of the Arts, where new ideas are put into the public domain with ever increasing regularity by new practitioners striving to keep pace with the fast changing world around us.

In 2009 and 2010 the Academy canvassed its membership, friends, associates and the wider world to seek out new and improved ways of working. Under the heading 'Future of the Academy' we received much valuable and insightful comment helping the Trustees to work with confidence to review and reform our administration, aims and objectives, and range of activities. Our most pressing task was evidently to address some of the expressed or implied criticism that the Academy had become too narrow in its scope and elitist in its views.

Seemingly every day a new way of speaking through the Arts emerges to be added to the wide array already available. The question for us was 'how and to what degree will the Academy's mission be adapted to remain relevant and valuable in the fast-changing second decade of the 21st Century?' Some things stay with us despite omnipresent change and the new dazzling imagery and form all around us. Contemporary must not mean the end of craft, skill, knowledge and application. Volume of production should not mean the end of carefully developed and worked original forms and images. Speed of manufacture does not prevent work from demonstrating development and continuity. Social or political comment through the medium of art does not preclude that art being of a quality comparable with those practitioners of the past more interested in the pure aesthetic. It is not the business of the Academy to pass judgment on the motivation, methods, or so-called artistic value from any practitioner in the arts. It is, however, the business of the Academy to seek out and nurture excellence in whichever form it appears. This refinement of the Academy's aims is true to the original mission but helps us to extend our range to encompass work beyond the traditional scope of the definitions 'Fine' or 'Applied Art'.

So, armed with an extended range, we turned to the question posed by many of our respondents: 'What is the role for the Academy to be, going forward?' Our Founders' objects as defined were 'to advance the education of the public in the Fine and Applied Arts and in particular to promote the appreciation and practice of the Fine and Applied Arts'. The key words 'education', 'appreciation' and 'practice' are as relevant today as they were in 2000. One outstanding contribution precisely redefined a key role for the Academy that fulfils least two of these objects. The Open Exhibition staged annually by the Academy provides a central and prestigious space, recognition, appreciation and promotion for aspiring practitioners that is not available at the same level anywhere else in our region. For the prizewinners, selected each year by the Trustees and the Public, financial reward helps forward their work and encourages their creativity often to new levels.

The founding of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts was essentially the vision of one man - the late Brian Bearne. A long time supporter and patron of the Arts, he had a deep love of painting, the crafts, music and theatre.

I first got to know Brian when staging an auction to raise funds for the development of the Exeter and Devon Arts Centre - now the Exeter Phoenix. Brian joined the Planning Committee and his energy and enthusiasm for this project, and the subsequent craft auction he promoted, was awesome.

The idea he had nurtured of setting up a unique academy, where the Fine Arts of painting and sculpture and the Applied Arts were brought together and exhibited with equal status, was fuelled by these two events. As I worked closely with him and our friendship developed, I realised how selflessly and generously he gave of his time to bring these projects to fruition. The Steering Committee of the Academy that supported him was made up of many like- minded people, who also had a passionate concern for the Arts. It is they who have brought the Academy into being.

As a man Brian was a charismatic figure of great warmth and charm much loved by his large circle of friends. The present exhibition, the first of a number of events the Academy is promoting, is a fitting tribute to him.

Alan Cotton - a tribute to Brian Bearne from the first Open Exhibition.
From top left, Lionel Aggett, Alan Cotton, Peter Blake, John Hammond, Colin Allbrook, Michael Morgan, Mary Fedden, Zbigniew Drecki, Bob Mountjoy.
In a further practical demonstration of the Trustees' commitment to a more outward looking profile for the Academy and meeting the above objectives, a substantial recruitment campaign to enroll new Academicians from across the region and across all media forms was completed in the first half of 2011. Each year the Academy receives applications for membership but in 2011 a pro-active campaign to supplement the membership was mounted whilst maintaining strict compliance with the qualification and standards rules for new Academicians as defined. Ten new Academicians have been accepted by the Trustees into our family, adding new perspectives and creative energy that will undoubtedly enhance our activities and reputation in the future.

Over the past three years the Trustees have reinstated the annual Academicians' Show and Drecki Lecture, and planning is in place for a new Young Artists' Award in 2012. These events not only reinforce our commitment to promoting appreciation and practice in the Fine and Applied Arts but also crucially renew our mission to encourage education in those vital areas. The Academicians' Show has proved to be very successful and well supported, and the choice of prestige locations has added to the atmosphere and sense of occasion, as well as providing a suitable home for Academicians' work. The Royal Clarence Hotel on Exeter's Cathedral Green and Kennaway House in Sidmouth were used in 2009 and 2010, whilst this year we have staged the exhibition in partnership with the owners of the beautiful new Gloss Gallery in Exeter.

The Trustees
Back Row: Christine Mitchell (Executive Director), John Hurford, Kate Aggett, Bob Mountjoy, Jenny Pymont, Alan Bourne.
Front row: Ann Roe Jones, Phil Creek (Chair), Alan Cotton, Greg Ramsden.
Not Pictured: Alison Summerfield, Simon Butler.
Photo: Alan Jones
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The South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts
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