The Arts Society Royal Tunbridge Wells is a long-established group offering lectures, visits and social events which cover a wide range of topics, genres and periods. Ahead of its new season, which begins on September 19, Eileen Leahy speaks to its chair Jane Jenner about why it’s so popular and discovers what’s in store for the year ahead…
‘The Tunbridge Wells Arts Society was formed in 1980 and is still thriving to this day because its members believe that the arts can enrich peoples’ lives’
The Arts Society is a leading arts education charity with a global network of local societies which bring people together through a shared curiosity for the arts. It was founded in 1968 and now boasts a network of branches nationwide including one here in Tunbridge Wells.
It was formed in 1980 and is still thriving to this day, primarily because its members believe that the arts have the potential to enrich peoples’ lives.
Locally, the Arts Society’s programme runs annually from September to June and offers nine lectures at Trinity Theatre, plus one Christmas lecture on Zoom. In addition to the regular meetings, the society offers a range of visits – some on Zoom so that those with mobility issues can still take part – plus Study Days with three lectures on a linked theme and a number of social events.
Formerly known as the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts, the name and ethos changed in 2017 to enable the organisers to offer a richer and more varied menu of topics.
Before the pandemic, the Tunbridge Wells branch had nearly 400 members and while the current figure is now around 250, according to the society’s new chair Jane Jenner many members have returned over the last year with more rejoining for the next season which is about to begin.
“We pride ourselves on organising interesting and various activities for likeminded people but are aware that many of our members come to lectures on their own which can be very daunting for some people,” explains Jane.
“As part of our activities, new members who are feeling a little alone in the crowd are warmly welcomed to the New Members Table in the foyer at Trinity after each lecture to talk with other ‘newbies’ and share a coffee with members of the committee. We also invite new members to a welcoming coffee morning soon after the start of our season to meet the committee, discuss interests and, hopefully make some new friends.”
‘In addition to the regular lectures, the society holds two in-depth study days each year at the Village Hall in Langton Geen’
Jane adds that here are over 380 lecturers registered with the Arts Society Directory.
“Some are household names, some are academics and some are extremely knowledgeable enthusiasts, who use the lectures to share their professional expertise with skill and enthusiasm. They are rigorously screened through the Arts Society’s accreditation process.
“Our programme secretary is able to access the wide range of topics offered through the Arts Society Directory. It is the programme secretary’s job to design our annual programme to ensure a good mixture of genres and periods.
“We try to offer an experience that our members might not be able to access alone, so while we do cover fine art, we also try to find themes and events that individuals might never access,” she says.
In addition to the regular lectures, the society holds two in-depth Study Days each year at the Village Hall in Langton Green with three lectures on a linked theme. It also offers a range of visits to museums and other arts attractions.
Jane says that in terms of the content for both the lectures and Study Days it is very broad.
“We try to cover everything from painting to history, geography, music, fashion and biography. It’s all art, but not necessarily as you know it!”
The society’s new programme year kicks off on 19 September with a lecture entitled ‘A load of old balls’.
“Our lecturer Simon Inglis will take a sideways look at why the invention of the ball could rank as highly as the invention of the wheel,” explains Jane.
“In October we move onto more traditional ground with a lecture on The Bayeux Tapestry, while in November, we will learn about the work and influence of Emperor Qianlong, the greatest of all the Qing emperors in China.
“Then in December, we have a lecture on Zoom about the music of Christmas. Also in October, our Study Day offers three lectures on 100 years of Australian Art from 1888-1988.”
The membership fee for one year is £45 for nine lectures at Trinity and one Zoom lecture. Jane stresses that guests are always welcome at the society’s lectures and the cost for this is £5, which is refundable if they then join the Tunbridge Wells Arts Society.