On the Road to Meikle Seggie
: Richard Demarco's Edinburgh Arts Journeys 1972-80

  • Giles Sutherland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis sets out to critically examine Richard Demarco’s experimental summer school, Edinburgh Arts, between the years 1972 and 1980. The thesis makes a number of claims, the most important of which is the uniqueness of the journeys themselves as a pedagogical undertaking. These summer schools, initially based in Edinburgh during the International Festival, became increasingly peripatetic, culminating in two voyages on the sailing barque, The Marques in 1979 and 1980, espoused a new pedagogy, encapsulated in the idea of a journey. The traditional boundaries between student and teacher were deliberately blurred, while the summer school approached the idea of learning and teaching through art as an inter-disciplinary pursuit that included ecology, architecture, archaeology and literature, as well as traditional crafts and folk culture.

The journeys themselves, involving multiple participants in many locations in Britain, and Europe, including Malta, followed increasingly complex itineraries. The majority of student participants were initially recruited from North American universities and art colleges and the idea of bringing students to experts, rather than the reverse, was a central part of the pedagogical ethos. As the journeys developed, they began to attract an increasingly diverse group of participants of all ages and backgrounds.

The thesis is divided into a number of chapters, each dealing with a specific aspect of Edinburgh Arts. A major research resource has been the Demarco Archive, located in the National Galleries of Scotland. The archive runs to several hundred linear metres of shelf space and also includes photographs, exceeding one million in number. The thesis is the first major academic work to critically assess the overall structure, content and impact of Edinburgh Arts, a pedagogical experiment which deserves to be as well-known as the institution on which it was partly modelled, Black Mountain College.

The thesis Introduction sets out the scope of the study and what it intends to examine.

Chapter One examines Demarco’s cultural, religious and educational background and explains some of his motivations in his trajectory towards the establishment of Edinburgh Arts.

Chapter Two looks at Edinburgh Arts 72, the first summer school, its content, processes and procedures, as well as its outcomes and successes.

Chapter Three analyses Edinburgh Arts 73 and Edinburgh Arts 74, as a continuation of Edinburgh Arts 72, and looks at the faculty and structure of the summer school and how this moved from a ‘static’ model of education to a peripatetic one.

Chapter Four engages with Edinburgh Arts 75, essentially a staged journey over several weeks, entitled To Callanish To Hagar Qim, which as the name suggests, began in Malta and ended in Lewis, Scotland. This section critically engages with the work of several Edinburgh Arts participants, including the Polish artists Barbara Kozłowska and Zbigniew Makarewicz, who participated in the entirety of journey and made a number of significant artworks in response to this. An additional focus is the Edinburgh Arts engagement with the Barlinnie Prison Special Unit, and, in particular, with Jimmy Boyle, a Glasgow criminal turned artist and writer, with whom Demarco and Edinburgh Arts developed a sustained relationship.

Chapter Five examines the last major Edinburgh Arts journey, in 1980, which involved a circumnavigation of the British Isles in nine stages on The Marques, beginning from Fowey in Cornwall, including visits to the Channel Islands, Wales, Eire, Northern Ireland and Scotland (Arran, Argyll, Iona, Skye, Wester Ross and Orkney), returning by the east coast of England to Fowey. The voyage included visits to the sculptor David Nash, the poets George Mackay Brown and Sorley Maclean, the painter Jon Schueler, and the performance artist Alastair MacLennan, each of whom contributed to Edinburgh Arts in the form of readings and discussion. Embedded in the voyage was the long-standing trope of the pilgrimage, embodied in the Edinburgh Arts groups’ engagement with the island of Iona as well of a number of other major religious and spiritual sites throughout Europe. The chapter examines the idea of the sea voyage as a pedagogical journey and looks at the success and otherwise of such an undertaking. The chapter examines the contributions of those participating on the voyage, in terms of artwork and other documentation, much of which is has remained in archival storage.

The Conclusion of the thesis summarizes the most significant aspects of Edinburgh Arts and the journeys and sets these within a wider art historical perspective and context. The Conclusion also points the way forward for the future use of the archive as an educational and artistic resource and gives some examples of current work on the Demarco Archive. The conclusion also sets out a case for further critical academic study of Edinburgh Arts and suggests ideas and structures for a full-length publication, expanding on the work of the current thesis.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsArts & Humanities Research Council
SupervisorMary Modeen (Supervisor), Michael Peter (Supervisor) & Victoria Walters (Supervisor)


  • Art Edinburgh Arts Pedagogy Richard Demarco Meikle Seggie

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