As hundreds of Arts Society committees are busy planning the 2020/21 season - in whatever form or shape that may happen - one of the big unknowns is the availability of venues for our lectures, study days and events. With 380 local groups, we use a fascinating range of buildings that are the 'homes' of our Societies.
And yet, in these uncertain times, we have to consider temporary venues or even virtual ones. Who would have thought three months ago that many of our Societies would be organising at least part of next year's programme in 'the cloud'. Only last week I attended a Society seminar on Zoom: but rather than just being the venue, Zoom became the prism through which the Members - and I - invited each other into our homes for a stimulating discussion of Rembrandt's self portraits. It was lovely to 'get out and meet people' virtually, but I'd love to follow this up with a visit when that is possible.
The venues that our Societies usually meet in are an expression of the diversity and idiosyncrasies of the communities we are part of. Finding a suitable venue can be an incredibly hard thing to do; losing a venue - as is now all too likely to happen to some Societies - is a heavy blow, especially if it is the result of that venue being threatened by permanent closure.
When the time comes for us to go back to how things used to be, we may well find ourselves in a position of having to fight for the survival of our venues; and with them, the seats of our local communities. We may have to do that publicly and make a stand, because saving places of public gatherings may not be a priority at a time of social distancing and 2 metre rules. And yet, losing such places would have devastating consequences, not just for us, but for all the other local groups that bring people - communities - together. So let's help save our venues when they ask for support.
And just to give you a flavour of the range of venues that our Societies use for lectures and other events, here some of the most impressive, quirky and welcoming places I've had the pleasure of visiting over the past few years - thank you again to the local Societies for welcoming me to your 'homes'.
The Arts Society Bath - The Assembly Rooms
The Arts Society Rother Valley - Hastings Contemporary
The Arts Society Chester - Chester Zoo
The Arts Society Cardiff - Chapter Arts Centre
Edinburgh DFAS - The Freemasons' Hall
The Arts Society Costa del Sol - Teatro Salon Varietes, Fuengirola
The Arts Society Poole - Canford Cliffs Village Hall
The Arts Society Chiswick - The Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK)
The Arts Society North East Area - Tyneside Cinema
The Arts Society Hampstead Heath - Kenwood House
The Arts Society Chiltern - Chenies Manor
The Arts Society Berlin - British Embassy
The Arts Society Speyside - Innes House, Urquhart
The Arts Society East Suffolk - Aldeburgh Cinema & Gallery
The Arts Society Chiltern - Blenheim Palace
And finally, The Arts Society Enfield, close to home for me at St Pauls Community Centre
Of course there are many more venues I could list here, and I am not even including the wonderful garden parties hosted by Members, the committee meetings over a kitchen table and the outings and trips that invite our Members to explore arts and heritage sites all over the world. It may be while until we can 'return to normal', but it is worth reminding ourselves of the many happy moments shared with fellow Members in 'our' venues. We will be back soon!
I would love to hear from you in the comments below: please do share a memory of a Society venue that means a lot to you; tell us about a venue that might be at risk of closing now; or upload a photo of a place that is important to your Society.