The Royal Hibernian Academy, which operates one of the nation’s largest public galleries, RHA School and Studios, marked an event of great importance in its history when artist, Abigail O’Brien was elected as the 24th President of the Academy at its Annual General Meeting, October, 2018. Elected to RHA Membership in 2006, Abigail O’Brien, now the first ever female president in the Academy’s 195-year history, was delighted to accept.
In her inaugural address, O’Brien stated that “I am delighted and honoured to have been elected as the new President of the RHA. It is a huge responsibility, one which I have given much consideration and which I take most seriously. I take it seriously because the Royal Hibernian Academy has a unique place in the Irish arts and in Irish public life. Because it has an incredible history and exciting future.”
During her term, O’Brien intends to continue to build awareness and recognition of the RHA among the wider public, to widen the Membership of the RHA within the younger generation, develop new and engaged audiences, encourage new patrons to support the RHA and inspire new and discerning art buyers and collectors. She believes that the RHA has the tools and talents to achieve these goals through its invigorating exhibition and education programming, RHA School and Studio programme, its standards and its heritage.
O’Brien also added “As we approach the 200th anniversary of our Charter in 2023, we are offered a point of reflection on the past and a drive towards the future. What will the RHA look like in 2123? It takes vision. Artists before us had a vision from which we benefit today, and we have a duty to do likewise.
I am proud that the RHA has made such strides on gender balance in the past 15 years. The ethos has changed and we are a much more diverse and inclusive group now. But there is such a long way for the arts to go. We, the RHA, can play our part in the further advancement and I am honoured to accept this appointment during this very exciting time.” Abigail O’Brien PRHA, Oct 2018
Other elections on the day included, Eithne Jordan as Keeper and Robin Buick as Treasurer.
The former President, painter Mick O’Dea PPRHA stood down after four years of service. During his tenure, O’Dea established the Charter Sub-Committee, beginning the process of the Charter Amendments to bring the Academy in to the 21st Century and prepare it for the next 200 years. He oversaw the professionalisation of the RHA School with the appointment Colin Martin as School Principal. He also established the RCSI Art Award and further strengthened relations with fellow Academies – the RA, RUA and RSA, as well as continuing the relationship with the British Institution Foundation. An area of particular concern for O’Dea had been the election of a younger generation of Academicians alongside addressing the gender balance of the RHA Membership in time for the 200th Anniversary, in 2023.
Past Presidents of the Royal Hibernian Academy include;
William Ashford, 1823 – 1824
Francis Johnston, 1824 – 1829
William Cuming, 1829 – 1832
Martin Cregan, 1832 – 1857
George Petrie, 1857 – 1859
Stephen Catterson Smith, 1859 – 1866
Sir Thomas Deane, 1866 – 1868
Stephen Catterson Smith, 1868 – 1869
Sir Thomas A. Jones, 1869 – 1893
Sir Thomas Farrell, 1893 – 1900
Sir Thomas Drew, 1900 – 1910
Dermod O’Brien, 1910 – 1945
James Sleator, 1945 – 1950
John Keating, 1950 – 1962
Maurice MacGonigal, 1962 – 1977
Raymond McGrath, 1977 – 1977
David Hone, 1977 – 1982
Dr. Thomas Ryan, 1982 – 1992
Carey Clarke, 1992 – 1996
Dr. Arthur Gibney, 1996 – 2005
Stephen McKenna, 2005 – 2009
Des McMahon, 2009 – 2014
Mick O’Dea, 2014 – 2018
Abigail O’Brien, 2018 – present