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Principal’s remarks – 7 December 2017

The Annual General Meeting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is an important moment in our calendar as it offers a welcome opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the year past, as well as an opportunity to look forward. This year it also marks the end of an era with the departure of our chair, Lord Vallance after a decade of service to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

On behalf of the entire staff and student community, I want to thank Lord Vallance warmly for his outstanding and thoughtful chairing of the Board of Governors and for overseeing so many of the important milestones in our recent history.

I’d also like to thank him personally for welcoming me as Principal and for his guidance during our time together at RCS.
I am also delighted to welcome Nick Kuenssberg as our new Chair and look forward to working with him in what I am sure will be an exciting new chapter in the story of Scotland’s world-leading performing arts institution.

At last year’s AGM I talked for the first time about the ambitions contained in our new five-year strategic plan and how we were shaping focusing our actions around the four pillars of Driving Focused Excellence, Promoting Diversity, Advancing Lifelong Learning and Embracing our Role as a National and International performing arts institution.

In the past 12 months we’ve made considerable progress in all areas. I’d like to highlight just a few:

In the area of Driving Focused Excellence, considerable energy and thought continues to be invested in curricular review, identifying where and how we can improve how our students take active part in learning and how we further develop pedagogical skills. In the past couple of weeks we’ve been delighted to welcome Rebecca Henry from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore who is an internationally-renowned expert in strings pedagogy. Rebecca delivered some excellent CPD and we look forward to developing a deeper relationship with Rebecca and her students. Scotland’s own Nicola Benedetti also shares that passion for great teaching and we’re delighted that she has agreed to join us at RCS for ‘Teach On!’ a summer school developing the excellent teaching skills that Nicola is really passionate about. Mindful always that we’re judged by the company we keep, we’re delighted to continue to develop existing arts teaching and performance partnerships, as well as develop new ones. In music we have great and interactive partnerships with the likes of the Nash Ensemble and the Brodsky Quartet, as well as the great musicians of Red Note, Scottish Ensemble and the Dunedin Consort, to name a few.

We’re also pleased to have a new relationship with Decoda, the professional ensemble linked with the Carnegie-Juilliard Academy Programme. Decoda visited us for the first time in September and we look forward to working with them further and collaborating as we continue to develop our Teach Arts for Scotland Programme. It’s an interesting and exciting potential prospect for the future that we might welcome emerging musicians from the Carnegie-Julliard programme to work with us at RCS and through Dumfries House, and that our merging musicians might one day experience learning and teaching in New York.

On the DDPS side of the house we’ve been fortunate to have Giles Havergal one of the foremost figures of his generation in Scottish theatre in to work with our actors. We’re also proud to have the partnerships we do with the Citizen’s Theatre and the Globe, as well as the work we do with National Theatre of Scotland and other arts companies around Scotland.

In terms of our commitment to Promoting Diversity and now that I’m chairing the Equality and Diversity Committee I see at first hand the wide range of work we continue to do in this area. Just one example that I want to share is a fascinating research paper we’ve just received around the issues and barriers of dance, disability and body type and which has real potential to help inform the development of our thinking going forward.

It’s also worth celebrating the fact that our work in diversity is not just making a difference within the conservatoire but is being noticed outside of here too. This year we’ve received a number of awards for promoting diversity. Our T20/40 Programme – which I’m delighted to note has recently achieved sustainable funding from the Scottish Funding Council for the next three years – was honoured in the Herald Education awards, while our ground-breaking BSL and English Performance Degree won both a Herald Inspire award, and a Highly commended in Times UK Higher Education awards

In our mission to advance Life Long Learning, this year I’m delighted to note that we appointed our first Head of Junior Conservatoire, Jenn Adams, and we look forward to further developing both the brand of Junior Conservatoire as well as enhancing the provision we offer through our music centres and outreach programmes and centres of excellence such as those now underway at Dumfries House in Ayrshire.

Finally, there are the goals we set ourselves around what it means to be the National conservatoire of Scotland and an International performing arts institution. Again, we are judged by the company we keep, so it has been as wonderful privilege this year to launch new partnerships with internationally recognised organisations such as Dumfries House and Gleneagles. Both support our mission in various ways – Gleneagles through scholarship and supporting keynote performance opportunities; Dumfries House through our learning and teaching partnership in strings and dance, as well offering our students wonderful opportunities through a performance programmes. Dumfries House also benefits from the active engagement of our patron, HRH Prince Charles.

We’ve also made great progress in our development activities, successfully securing funding to enable a £2.3 million Creative Campus development which has allowed us to repurpose existing space, creating 50% more one-to-one learning and teaching rooms as well as two new larger teaching spaces. We are down to having to find the last £100,000 which would be a brilliant end to the year.

We’ve achieved a number of major donations from individuals to support our strategic goals of scholarship and building infrastructure, which lays great foundations for the future. And recognising that we need to develop our support, advocacy and recruitment base in the US, we’re delighted to have our first International Advisory Board. We’ve launched it, have our first donation, have a board and chair in place, plan a cultivation event in March and had a successful small one this past October.

There has also been extremely positive progress in developing key International academic partnerships. Again, we are judged by the company we keep. We’re now actively collaborating in partnership with a number of excellent international conservatoires in Norway, The Hague, YST in Singapore and Thornton, Berklee/BoCo and Muhlenberg in the US with exciting opportunities for us to develop all these relationships further.

Finally, we’re delighted that our reputation with our peers and employers in both the UK and internationally had the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland recognised this year as one of the world’s leading performing arts institution and ranked Number Six in the prestigious QS world academic rankings of performing arts institutions.

This is a tremendous achievement and one in which I must thank all members of the RCS community for playing their part. We should all be proud of this. Looking forward to 2017 there is much to do, but many opportunities to embrace. In 2017 we celebrate our 170th birthday and, as we do so, we will continue to promote and develop the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on a national and international level.

In an anxious world, there is much to do. The good news is we are needed, perhaps more than ever. Behind all the noise and strife we reveal the humanity. We speak truth to power and give the voiceless a voice.

Thank you for everything you have done so far, and here’s to 2017 and our opportunity to spread our work and our message deeper and wider, creating inspired and engaged ambassadors and leaders in the arts and for Scotland.