Arts Society to launch online lectures for over-70s

A free lockdown arts programme aimed at the over-70s will kick off on Tuesday morning with a lecture on one of the most mysterious paintings in art: the Velázquez masterpiece Las Meninas.

The Arts Society, the UK’s leading arts education charity with 90,000 members, has announced a series of free online lectures, film screenings and live Q&As by authors that will run over the coming months.

The society’s bread and butter activity is helping to stage events and museum trips where its members meet up for cultural activities face to face. Now they are among those hit hardest by the crisis.

Florian Schweizer, the society’s chief executive, said: “A lot of our members are more mature which is why our initial response was: ‘How can we get them connected back with each other and with us?’

“Local committees have all been chatting away on forums and are responding so well to the crisis. It really has been lovely and quite moving to see things that would have probably taken years to organise, happen within two or three weeks. I’m really proud of our members.”

The first lecture being broadcast at 11am on Tuesday is by the art historian Jacqueline Cockburn and was recorded in her home by her son. She had been due to lecture on Picasso at the society’s now-cancelled annual general meeting and suggested Las Meninas, which hangs in the Prado in Madrid, as a shorter alternative for the new project.

Subsequent lectures will include talks by Antiques Roadshow regulars Mark Hill and Marc Allum, the UK’s leading Aboriginal art expert Rebecca Hossack, and the art critic Sarah Dunant. Tate curator and JMW Turner expert Nicola Moorby will talk about the new £20 note, which features the artist.

The Arts Society consists of 380 individual membership groups, which organise regular lectures and educational trips to museums and galleries throughout the year.

Schweizer said the new digital platform, titled The Arts Society Connected, aims to help people stay “educated, entertained and informed” over the next three months.

It will be free to members or indeed anyone who fancies watching and taking part in community forums before and after the events.

As well as fortnightly lectures there will be monthly film screenings, beginning with one titled Easter in Art. There will also be a package of social media training for people who feel they need it.

The initiative is one of many being launched by museums, galleries, charities and individual artists to help get people through the lockdown.

“We believe the arts have the power to bring people together, and we will not let this virus stop communities from enjoying the arts with each other,” said Schweizer.

“We are working with our thousands of volunteers to develop new skills and initiatives, building resilience and a future in which many of our members will embrace digital as a valuable addition to their cultural experience.”

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