Monday, November 05, 2018

London Art Galleries and Museums: Membership Scheme costs compared

The cost of seeing an art exhibition in London is not cheap. Enrolling for one or more Friends / Membership schemes can seem like a sensible thing to do if you like viewing art. 

Certainly, I planned on visiting art exhibitions a lot when I retired and one of the very first things I did when I retired was to take out memberships at a number of the national art galleries and museums in London - and I've never regretted it - until now.

The reality is Annual Membership fees for Art Galleries and Museums keep on rising 
  • by more than the cost of inflation (as government funding has been cut) over the course of the recession 
  • some rises have also been pretty steep and less than transparent for those addressing some pretty ambitious development plans!  I use direct debits for my memberships and got a major shock when I realised how much I was now paying for my RA membership!
Given memberships are often gifted at Christmas I thought I'd do a review of:
  • what each membership scheme costs
  • my conclusions as to which is best for what
  • the best value art membership scheme of all - and it's maybe a scheme you're not aware of

Some of you who have enrolled and, like me, have not looked at your direct debits lately may get a SHOCK!

National Gallery from Trafalgar Square on a late winter afternoon

Art Galleries and Museums - The cost of membership

Membership fees have changed and come museums have got very cute at working out what makes a difference to people eg
  • some are very family friendly with free access for more than two kids (see Tate and V&A)
  • some are kind to young people eg V&A
  • some are well suited to those who like taking their friends and guests to an exhibition
  • some do decent discounts on books and items in shops eg NPG and Tate
  • some do decent discounts on restaurant meals and throw in great views eg National Portrait Gallery (one of the main reasons members go to to the NPG!)

Art Gallery / Museum
Benefits Summary
Annual / Life Membership

Free unlimited entry to exhibitions, special events, members room & other benefits

£64 single
£86 joint
£44 under 26 single

Free unlimited entry to all visiting exhibitions and Collection + Friends' Private Views; Friends Rates on tickets for lectures, art classes, talks & events; InView magazine (3 editions per year); Friends monthly e-news; opportunity to get involved with the work of the

£43 single
£61 single + family guest
£25 under 30 single

Year 1 payment covers 14 months for direct debit

Free unlimited entry to exhibitions + private views of exhibitions, exclusive Members' events including concerts, cinema screenings, talks, and more

£68 single
£94 joint (household)
£107 single + guest
Nothing for young people
Free unlimited entry to ticketed exhibitions + members' only private views and previews; 10% discount in Gallery Shop, Portrait Café & Restaurant

£55 single (direct debit)
£80 single + guest
£90 joint (same address)
1.1 (2016/17)
Free entry to exhibitions for you and a family guest (but you have to book first for some) + Previews to exhibitions before they open to the public; Priority booking to all RA events. Private views and exclusive Friends events; all-day access to the Keeper's House; RA Magazine and a weekly email newsletter;
10% discount in the RA shop (but not on everything)

£125 standard friend + guest
£60 16-25 single + family guest

(Tates Modern, Britain,  St Ives and Liverpool)

Free unlimited entry to all four Tate galleries and any exhibitions, plus member talks, events and viewing hours.

Unlimited free exhibition entry at all four art galleries (No need to book, just turn up) +; Exclusive Members Hours away from the crowds; Access to Members Room; 10% Tate Shop discount. Free admission for up to six children

£76 single (direct debit)
£120 single + guest (direct debit)

Year 1 (Direct Debit) = 15 months for the price of 12

Free unlimited entry to all exhibitions (no need to book) +  exclusive previews; priority booking for evening talks and access to specially curated Members-only events; Members' Room; V&A Magazine (three times a year); quarterly newsletter & monthly emails; free access to exhibitions for up to four children (under-18)

£70 single
£95 single + guest
£145 joint + 2 guests
£45 single under 25

Free unlimited entry to all exhibitions + exclusive events (Lectures / tours / exhibition previews); Concession rates on public events including concerts, Friday Lates, lectures and art classes;
10% discount in our Museum Shop and The Wallace Restaurant*

£45 single
£65 joint
£30 Single under 25

  1. Most of the above also do Joint Membership schemes + guests but I've not included them above as I think the cost will have limited appeal to all but the most sociable and well endowed.
  2. The Courtauld Gallery closed in September 2018 for at leas two years for renovations. Meanwhile you can see the Impressionist Paintings from the Coutauld at the National Gallery.

Some of the world famous Courtauld Impressionist paintings at the National Gallery

My conclusions

  • For those who like blockbuster exhibitions - consider 
    • the British Museum (if you like historical / cultural aspects of art)
    • the National Gallery (for once in a lifetime exhibitions of art loaned by other national museums)
    • the V&A (if you like design, fashion and/or contemporary culture)
    • the RA - for "once in a while" blockbusters. (They certainly don't have them every year.)
  • If you have a young family the Tate and V&A are your best bet - both provide free admission for children under 18 (6 and 4 respectively). Others provide free access for under 12s and discounted prices for 13-18 year olds.
  • If you want to see exhibitions when they are less crowded, choose less busy hours of the day or extended hours which are also open to the public
    • Members previews at some galleries are if anything MORE crowded than when the public are in!  
    • Only galleries who are making a very serious effort to make the galleries less crowded for viewing by members should get your money.
  • If you enjoy somewhere to relax after seeing an exhibition, consider the Tate. Best view in London (across the Thames) and some comfy seats at Tate Modern. HOWEVER
    • most galleries forget that a lot of their membership patrons are pensioners who like to have decent sit down at some point during the day, especially after seeing an exhibition. 
    • The leather Chesterfields in the Friend Room at the RA (sadly now gone for good) kept me as a member for a very long time!  Hard seats have very little appeal....
  • If you want a stunning view - and a discount - with your lunch, consider the National Portrait Gallery Restaurant - which looks out at Parliament and the London Eye over the top of the National Galley. The 10% discount is a bonus!
  • Think very long and hard before signing up for a Royal Academy of Arts Friends subscription
    • there is NO SINGLE MEMBERSHIP for those of us who like visiting exhibitions on our own -and/or not having to pay through the nose for the odd times we take a friend as well.
    • as a result, it's TWICE the cost of most of memberships (ie equivalent to Friend + Guest subscriptions elsewhere) - and creeps up each year without being signalled loudly. 
    • Plus having a membership card no longer means free access whenever you want (i.e. the main reason I have a card) as you still need to book entry for members previews and some popular exhibitions - which means less spontaneity and you don't eliminate booking!). 
    • It's much much cheaper to just book for the exhibitions you want to see and pay for tickets online.

The Best Value Membership Scheme - by a long way!

The Best Value Membership Scheme - by a very long way - is The Art Fund National Art Pass if you just want to
  • see some (but not all) of the exhibitions 
  • are based elsewhere in the UK and travel to London a few times a year
  • are not bothered by the frills and/or magazines, access to members rooms etc and 
  • are unlikely to either want to see every exhibition at an art gallery or museum or be able to get to see them all 

The Art Fund National Art Pass

For £60 for single annual membership you get one membership card and
  • free or reduced price entry to free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic houses 
  • plus 50% off major exhibitions at participating venues across the UK (including ALL of those listed above - plus a lot more besides - except for the RA which gives a measly £1 discount.
  • Subscription to Art Fund's magazine with insightful and exclusive features
  • Email subscription - your guide to great art across the UK, news and special offers
  • Comprehensive annual guidebook on using your pass at over 700 venues
  • 25% discount for direct debit in Year 1
Plus anybody can use the Art Guide App 

See the Museums and Galleries in London you can visit using the National Art Pass - you may be very surprised!

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the National Art Pass it to all those tourists visiting London (and the UK) who want to visit museums and galleries of all kinds.  It will pay for itself!

Current examples of exhibitions you can get free or discounted access to in London
Using the National Art Pass.
So basically, if you don't mind 
  • booking online in advance and using the concessionary discount allowed via the National Art Pass
  • not having access to crowded members rooms
  • not getting a print magazine dedicated to the gallery
you can get to see all the exhibitions you want to see - and not have to queue for tickets.

It's not free access to everything - but this no frills options is an awful lot cheaper!

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