Friday, July 12, 2019

RA Friends Annual Subscription vs. Paying for Exhibitions you want to see

Every year, round about this time, I ponder on my continued Friends Subscription to the Royal Academy of Arts.

When I retired I made a point of taking out the annual subscriptions to various art galleries and museums - the Royal Academy of Arts (which I was already a Friend of) plus the National Portrait Gallery, The Tate and the National Art Fund (along with various ones associated with Heritage and Gardens!) . I do so in part to show support for these institutions not because I expect to exploit my membership / Friends status for every organisation.

However I have begun to feel in recent years that I have been financing the build of the RA development for its 250th anniversary.

The Entrance to Burlington House - home of the RA

Let's look at the numbers - which is interesting of itself - because I don;t recall receiving clear reminders about how much the subscription goes up by every year - and what the new direct debit figure is.  I think there are rules above changes to direct debits and I'm not sure the RA is compliant.

All I can say that the RA Friends Subscription has way outstripped inflation - and every other indicator going - re the increase in the subscription fee since I retired.

So the options for me are as follows

OPTION 1: PAY £130 per year 

For that I get
  • Free entry to exhibitions for you and a family guest
  • Previews to our exhibitions before they open to the public
  • Exclusive extended hours to select exhibitions
  • Priority booking to all RA events, including in our new Lecture Theatre
  • 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
Burlington House Courtyard - Summer Exhibition 2019
The reality in recent years is that 
  • I simply haven't been to every exhibition - and wouldn't want to go to some.  They've been making some very curious choices in recent years
  • For very popular exhibitions Friends now need to book in advance to get their free admission and that for me loses the crucial point of being a Friend - of being able to turn up when you felt like it
  • The Summer Exhibition was awful this year and I feel less and less like going. Indeed I only go because I can for free. (Although I would have cheerfully paid for Grayson Perry's curation last year)
  • Previews are nice - but they are now so very crowded. There's a point when promoting Friends can work against the Scheme!
  • Plus many of the activities are of no interest to me. Of those Friends Events that are, the members who seem to know when the new events are publicised have already booked all the tickets and the events are already sold out.  I was absolutely amazed that I got in to a talk about the RA Library recently
  • All day access to the Keeper's House is of no consequence since I don't use it.
  • It is nice to be able to go to the good exhibitions more than once - but the number that tempt me to do so are few and far between (I went to the Hockney Landscapes 4 times - including the very last night - see Review: David Hockney RA - A Bigger Picture)
  • The RA Magazine is good - but I can read it online without being a member - if I could just remember how!

RA Friends in April 2010
I always used to say that the reason I was a Friend were the black leather Chesterfields in the Friends Room which were a wonderful way to relax after a long time spent viewing an exhibition. Plus I used to sketch in there all the time.

RA Friends September 2011
However the powers that be decided that Friends need to sit on hard chairs and the Chesterfields had to go. Plus the Friends Room got busier and busier to the point where I now take myself over the road to Fortnum & Mason for tea or lunch or gossip with friends who I've not seen for ages - as it so much more relaxed, civilised and comfortable!  Plus I now arrange to meet Friends in the National Dining Rooms which are much more civilised in terms of being able to stay sitting at your table for ages if you time it right!

The RA also upgraded the Members Room and made it into the clubbable bit - for which you now need to spend an extra £400 to get access. 

No way!

Plus I haven't sketched in the Friends Room for ages. Indeed I can't remember the last time I had a cup of tea in there.

It basically feels that the Friends Membership has been downgraded - and what I used to be getting for being a Friend now comes with a huge price tag attached.

Option 2: Pay for art exhibitions as and when 

This is the considerably cheaper option. It means 
  • I lose out on previews (no big deal since I stopped covering exhibitions religiously)
  • I can't have a Pimms at the Summer Exhibition Preview - but then I went this year and the Pimms Bar had disappeared in any case to be replaced somewhere else by a botanicals gin thingie.
  • I can't use the Friends Room - but as explained I've already switched to Fortnum & Mason for better food and more comfort!
  • I don't get the Magazine - which is not a big deal for me
  • I can still book for events which are not exclusive to Friends 
Plus I have to pay (say) £18-20 admission for some of the exhibitions (i.e. the ones I want to see such as - in 2019-20
  • Lucian Freud Self Portraits (Sackler Galleries - 27 October 2019 — 26 January 2020- cost £18 - but since Friends have to book a timed ticket as well there is no bonus to being a Friend other than saving the cost of the ticket.  (Besides which I saw the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012 and I doubt I'm going to see anything new - see Review: Lucian Freud Portraits at National Portrait Gallery
  • Picasso on Paper (Main Galleries 25 January — 13 April 2020- cost £18-22 - no current proposals to require bookings by members presumably because it will be in the Main Galleries which are much bigger
I can go to both exhibitions twice and still be "quids in" compared to the cost of a Friends Membership.

Writing this out has been very therapeutic. I'm now off to cancel my direct debit!

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