The RSA maintains a unique position in the country as an independently funded institution led by eminent artists and architects to promote and support the creation, understanding, and enjoyment of visual arts through exhibitions and related educational events.
In addition to a continuous programme of exhibitions, the RSA also administers scholarships, awards, and residencies for artists who live and work in Scotland. The RSA's historic collection of important artworks and an extensive archive of related material chronicling art and architecture in Scotland over the last 180 years are housed in the National Museums Collection Centre at Granton, and are available to researchers by appointment. Displays of the historic collections are mounted whenever possible.
Its home since 1911 has been the Royal Scottish Academy Building on The Mound, Princes Street, Edinburgh, adjacent to the National Gallery of Scotland building. The building is managed by the National Galleries of Scotland but the 1910 Order grants the RSA permanent administration offices in the building. Exhibition space is shared throughout the year with the Scottish National Gallery and other organisations (Exhibiting Societies of Scottish Artists). The building, originally designed by William Henry Playfair, was recently refurbished as part of the Playfair Project and is now part of the Scottish National Gallery complex.
The RSA is led by a body of eminent artist and architect members who encompass a broad cross-section of contemporary Scottish art. Members are known as Academicians, and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters RSA. The president uses the postnominal letters PRSA while in office, and PPRSA (Past President of the RSA) thereafter.
Academicians are elected to the Academy by their peers. There are also Honorary Academicians (HRSA), including the RSA's patron, the Duke of Edinburgh. After amendments to the Supplementary Charter in 2005, once Associates (ARSA) have submitted a Diploma work into the Permanent Collection of the RSA, they are then entitled to full membership of the Academy. The membership includes 30 Honorary Academicians and 104 Academicians. From 2010–12, the RSA President was Professor Bill Scott, Secretary Arthur Watson and Treasurer Professor Ian Howard. In 2018, Joyce W. Cairns was elected as the first female President in the history of the Academy. RSA President, Joyce W. Cairns is joined by Secretary Robbie Bushe RSA and Treasurer Robin Webster RSA.
- 2018-Present: Joyce W. Cairns
- 2012-2018 Arthur Watson
- 2007–2012: Bill Scott
- 1998–2007: Ian McKenzie-Smith
- 1990–1998: William James Laidlaw Baillie
- 1983–1990: Sir Anthony Wheeler
- 1973–1983: Sir Robin Philipson
- 1959–1964: Sir William MacTaggart
- 1950–1959: William Oliphant Hutchison
- 1944–1950: Sir Frank Mears
- 1933–1944: Sir George Pirie
- 1923–1933: Sir George Washington Browne
- 1919–1923: Sir J. Lawton Wingate
- 1902–1919: Sir James Guthrie
- 1891–1902: Sir George Reid
- 1882–1891: Sir William Fettes Douglas
- 1876–1882: Sir Daniel Macnee
- 1864–1876: Sir George Harvey
- 1850–1864: Sir John Watson Gordon
- 1837–1850: Sir William Allan
- 1826–1837: George Watson (first president)
- The Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Printmaking Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "ESSA - Exhibiting Societies of Scottish Artists". Archived from the original on 28 February 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
- "Who's Who". Royal Scottish Academy.
- "Full list of RSA Members". Royal Scottish Academy.
- "Fine art lecturer elected President of the Royal Scottish Academy". Deadline. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
- "Echo Basin by Ian McKenzie Smith". Art in Healthcare. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- "The Scotsman". 28 December 2013.
- "The Royal Scottish Academy, 1826-1916 : a complete list of the exhibited works by Raeburn and by Academicians, Associates and Hon. Members, giving details of those works in public galleries". Retrieved 12 May 2015.
- Esme Gordon (1976) The Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture & Architecture 1826-1976. Edinburgh.
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