Since 1930, it became the custom, as in other academies, that those elected to Academician of the RUA should donate a work of high standing, a ‘Diploma Work’, to the Academy. This development also brought in work from Academicians in earlier years and was extended to Associate Academicians in 1990.
When this practice first started there were only few works in the collection, which were stored in various premises that the Academy rented in Belfast. Over the years the collection grew quite large and storage became a problem. The Old Museum in College Square North was home to the RUA for many years, but in 1973, due to increasing disturbances in troubled times, the premises were vacated. The bulk of the collection was moved to Hillsborough, in the care of Patric Stevenson, whilst some items were held in members’ houses, banks, universities etc. Unfortunately the Hillsborough storage was not appropriate for a fine art collection, and to stop further deterioration Neil Shawcross and Helen Falloon moved it to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.
In the early 1980′s the Folk and Transport Museum could no longer hold the works, so with the help of Doreen Crockart and David Evans the collection was moved to yet another safe house in Belfast. At this time Solly Lipsitz became the ‘Keeper’ of the collection, and he undertook to catalogue and to value the works. In the late 1980′s the collection was moved to a strong–room in a Belfast storage building where it remained until September of this year.
The Diploma Collection is now on permanent display at the Academy’s offices in 59 North Street, Belfast BT1 1NB (viewing by appointment – ring 028 90320819 to arrange).