With a bit of help from celebrity Stephen Fry and artist Grayson Perry, The Royal Academy of Arts in London held a press conference to announce plans to renovate its current “Friends space.” The plan behind the revamp is part of an effort to “offer more” to Royal Academy Friends, Royal Academicians and the general public through “increased social spaces, extended opening hours and an exciting public programme featuring talks, debates, workshops and exhibitions.”
Founded back in 1977, the Friends of the Royal Academy is the largest membership organisation of its kind in Europe and the third largest in the world (behind New York's Met and MOMA respectively). Apparently, a number of the RA's 94,000 Friends were left feeling more than a little neglected when an onslaught of not so officially friendly folks clogged up the Academy's hallowed halls to check out the David Hockney exhibition earlier this year and seemed too often to take priority over the wishes of long standing Friends.
In an effort to make amends for what Royal Academy President Christopher Le Brun has admitted to be a “fiasco” that pushed RA Friends and their loyalty “to the periphery” – and to accommodate the 10,000 strong batch of new Friends who've joined fresh off the success of the wildly popular Hockney show – the RA has promised to do up the Keeper's House (where Friends of the Royal Academy can go to slum it) in grand style.
Led by architects Long & Kentish with interior design by Sir David Chipperfield RA, the updated Keeper's House will cost £5.7 million and feature newly commissioned art by Grayson Perry and other Royal Academicians. The project more than doubles the Friends space available by opening up a currently unused floor of the Keeper’s House to create a destination restaurant by Peyton and Byrne and a new Garden Bar. The renovation will also improve and modernise the Keepers' House with facilities and amenities such as a new lift and WiFi.
According to one Friend of the Royal Academy, the Keeper's House has needed sprucing up for quiet some time. Friend of the Royal Academy, Trustee of the Royal Academy Trust and all around incredibly British personality, Stephen Fry, has likened its current conditions to a “1970s polytechnic staff room.” But he also said that the RA is “one of the most exciting places to visit in London” and that there “truly is nowhere quite like it in the world.” He was “thrilled that this quirky home for all those who love art is getting some fresh, new spaces that will help us to enjoy visiting even more.” With significantly fewer words but equal amounts of enthusiasm, Royal Academician Grayson Perry explained he was looking forward to a new place for “falling down from free alcohol in public.”
The new Keeper's House is set to open spring 2013. More about it and what's on at the Royal Academy of Arts can be found at www.royalacademy.org.uk
Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more. www.tikichris.com