A bit of Stephen Fry and Grayson Perry launches £6m Royal Academy upgrade


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The Independent Culture

The Royal Academy of Arts is seeking to bring in younger visitors and "repay our friends" with a multimillion-pound refurbishment of facilities for its members – the first step in a wider overhaul of the entire site in London's West End.

The arts organisation is to renovate a property on the eastern side of the institution's Burlington House home, off Piccadilly, called Keeper's House. The new wing, originally built in the 1870s as a home for the Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, is expected to open next spring. It will feature newly-commissioned works by the Turner Prize-winning, cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry, and other Royal Academicians.

The expansion will double the space for the 94,000 "friends" of the RA, whose membership fees increased two years ago to help pay for the work. The academy revealed that a David Hockney exhibition this year had prompted 10,000 new members to sign up.

Charles Saumarez Smith, the RA's secretary and chief executive, said the £5.7m project was intended to "ensure the loyalty of existing friends". "We are also conscious they are ageing and it is important to recruit the next generation," he added. "It's a happy compromise, The point is that it will be packed from dawn to dusk."

The new wing will open only to members during the day and then in the evening invite others to the bar, which is expected to appeal to a younger audience. There will also be a new restaurant run by the Irish chef Oliver Peyton.

The academy, founded by King George III in 1768, is independent with no state funding, and relies on the support of its "friends", donors and artists. Membership schemes are an increasingly important revenue stream for arts groups and museums, especially those that do receive grants, as government handouts have been slashed and economic pressures continue.

Stephen Fry, a friend of the RA and trustee of the Royal Academy Trust, said the institution was "unique and unmatchable" and "we rely on people's support". He said the current members' area was "a bit like a 1970s polytechnic staff room", adding: "They deserve more as they give so much to us."

Perry, who was appointed a Royal Academician last year, said the project was "very good because we must support the friends".