Out and about with the Friends of the RA
Out and about with the Friends of the RA
By Courtney Cooke
Published 3 July 2014
Friends Events Coordinator Courtney Cooke explains how her team formulates ideas for events, and how you can join us on one of these exclusive trips.
What could be nicer than a trip with Friends? For 36 years, Friends of the RA have enjoyed privileged access to the finest – and sometimes quirkiest – places of interest, art collections and private residences around the UK.
Since our foundation, the RA has stood for debate and education in art. Our Friends are our most loyal supporters, and alongside free access to all our exhibitions and the delightful facilities of the Keeper’s House, we offer a range of special arts-based excursions and tours just for them. Our programme has grown steadily over the years and continues to evolve: Friends Events Manager Sue Stamp and I now run approximately 120 events per year.
Lots of our Friends events are London-based, but our team also organises coach trips to places further afield, two-to-four-day trips that really help you explore the art and heritage of a particular region of the UK and the ever-popular annual Christmas Carol Service, held in December at St James’s Piccadilly. If you haven’t come to a Friends Event before, we’d love to meet you at one.
We’re fortunate that the words ‘Royal Academy’ still open a lot of doors. We gain access to institutions, residences and collections that are generally not open to the public, and have specially opened their doors for our exclusive visits. These include corporate art collections belonging to companies such as Prudential and Deutsche Bank, and private homes like the extraordinary Tudor palace Crosby Hall, by the Thames in in London, or the eclectic country mansion of Elton Hall, near Peterborough, where Friends have had the pleasure of being shown around personally by the owners.
Our groups also get to explore behind the closed doors of private members clubs, livery halls and government institutions, like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government Art Collection. Many of the venues we tour remark on how delighted they are to have a group of RA Friends to show around, who are so interested and knowledgeable (and well-behaved!).
Over the years we’ve developed some excellent on-going relationships with outside institutions that go the extra mile to ensure our Friends enjoy themselves. However, we always try to stay current and spend a lot of our time back in the office researching new venues. And we also love to hear from our Friends and Patrons – they’re a cultured community of art-lovers who suggest some great places to visit.
So, how can you join us on one of our excursions? All Friends events are advertised in the Debate pages of the quarterly RA Magazine that all Friends receive. Friends can find the booking form on the same page, which needs to be filled in and posted or faxed back to us, ideally as soon as possible after the magazine’s publication. Since our events are popular – and we are often limited in the numbers we can take into these exclusive locations – we allocate tickets through a balloting system, to make it as fair as possible. Once the balloting is complete, events with tickets left are advertised on our website, and for popular events we operate a waiting list. We always encourage Friends to apply, as the balloting system means the vast majority of applications are successful for at least one event.
My colleague Sue Stamp has worked in the Friends Events team for over six years. These are a few of her favourite trips:
"A stand-out memory is Saltwood Castle in Kent, where we were welcomed by Jane Clark, widow of legendary political intriguer Alan Clark MP, and daughter-in-law of Kenneth Clark, the art historian, collector and broadcaster. Jane showed us Kenneth’s eclectic collection of contemporary British art including works by the Bloomsbury Group and leading figures such as Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, John Piper and Graham Sutherland."
"A very different trip for the Friends was to the Hannah Peschar sculpture park near Guilford. Hannah, a sculptor herself, told us how she came to work and live in this tranquil and beautifully landscaped leafy dell in which you could happen upon contemporary sculptures at surprising moments, and lose all sight of any other visitors. The experience was hauntingly memorable: I can’t wait to take another group of Friends there in the future."
The Royal Academy’s international travel partner Cox and Kings also runs international art tours with highly knowledgeable experts and lecturers in Europe and beyond.
Do you have any ideas or suggestions for Friends events? Please email us – we would love to hear from you!