The blockbuster Brits and the financial renaissance of our struggling galleries

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

'Friendship schemes' are proving to be an increasingly lucrative source of income for the top arts venues

Blockbuster exhibitions are becoming an increasingly important way for galleries and museums to recruit members as they look to cope with slashed arts funding and the economic gloom.

It emerged this week that the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts earlier this year prompted 10,000 people to become "friends" of the organisation, as they sought to beat the queues and visit the show more than once. Visitors paid £100 – or a little less on direct debit – for the membership, which allows free entry to any exhibition for 12 months. The organisation has 94,000 friends and, on Thursday, announced a £5.7m overhaul of the facilities catering to their members, which will be completed next spring. Much of the sum for the project was raised from a £10 increase in membership two years ago.

The RA is an independent organisation that receives no Government funding, making the friends scheme a core part of its revenue stream.

The British Museum, which is also overhauling its membership room, saw an uplift in memberships sold during its Grayson Perry exhibition and the recent show, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam. Julia Brown, membership marketing manager of the British Museum, said: "The flexibility membership brings is so attractive. People can get in even if shows are sold out; they can skip the queues and go as many times as they want. It is about fitting in with modern day convenience."

There have been a series of blockbuster shows in the UK in the past year, and the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions showed an increase at most of the major galleries in 2011 as Britons holidayed at home. That has led to a rise in memberships. Numbers at the National Portrait Gallery have risen from 7,000 in February, at the start of its blockbuster Lucian Freud exhibition, to 11,400. Arts organisations see membership as increasingly important as Government arts funding has been cut. "More than ever before, organisations are trying to rally supporters to help out. Individuals are more important to sustaining the life blood of organisations," Ms Brown said. The Tate has 100,000 members. A spokeswoman said blockbuster exhibitions, including the current Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern, were a "contributing factor" to the uplift in members.

The funds from members generated about £6m for the organisation last year, with £1.5m going towards buying art for the collection. They also help other projects, including building works.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said last year that cultural institutions had been reducing their reliance on state funding and looking for other sources of funding even before the banking crisis. "Not just philanthropy or corporate sponsorship, but membership schemes, commercial income from shops and restaurants or credit card donations schemes; all of them playing an important part," he said.

Institutions had feared the worst as the Government planned to cap charitable donations, which would have hit even harder with the reduced support from the state. However, at the end of last month the Chancellor, George Osborne, reversed his decision.

Damien Hirst, Tate Modern

The blockbuster show, Hirst's first major UK retrospective, is part of the London 2012 Festival. The show split critics, but controversy is usually good at attracting a crowd. New members were lured in by the offer of a private advanced showing and evening events.

Grayson Perry, British Museum

Perry's show, The Tomb of the Unknown craftsman, proved popular with both the public and critics, and was extended by a week until 26 February. "We had an unprecedented spike in membership during the exhibition," said a British Museum spokeswoman.

Lucian Freud, National Portrait Gallery

Visiting hours were extended at the gallery a month after Lucian Freud Portraits opened, to keep up with demand. At the start of the show there were 7,000 members. That has risen to 11,400 following the gallery's most successful-ever paid exhibition.

David Hockney, Royal Academy

A Bigger Picture brought together 150 Hockney works, many from the past eight years. It was met with huge acclaim and pre-booking for the show, which opened in January, sold out to March. Almost 10,000 new "friends" signed up and opening hours were extended.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?