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Your friend in high places

Published 20 June 2014

Chair of the Friends Board of Trustees Denise Wilson talks to Sam Phillips about her role at the Academy.

  • From the Summer 2014 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    Global transformation, change analysis, field force delivery: these may sound like the themes of a contemporary art installation, but they describe just some of the many projects Denise Wilson has managed in her decades of executive experience in the worlds of oil, gas and high finance.

    Readers may not be aware that their annual subscription is paid not to the Royal Academy of Arts directly but to a separate charity: the Friends of the Royal Academy, an organisation that since the 1970s has supported the RA’s wide-ranging activities. Like all charities, it has a board of trustees, and this year Wilson has become the board’s Chair after six years as a trustee.

    “The board looks after the interests of our near 90,000 Friends,” explains Wilson. ‘Their subscriptions represent £10 million, roughly, each year, which contributes around one-third of the operating profits of the Academy, so it is through each Friend’s generosity that the RA can continue its work. We make sure that those funds are spent well and on causes that are beneficial to Friends.”

    Wilson’s expertise in finance, governance and customer delivery complements skills of others on a board that includes artists and academics. “I have worked with engineers and accountants during my career, so it is wonderful to work with artists and art lovers for such a culturally rich cause.” She regards the opening of the Keeper’s House as the most significant step during her time as a trustee. “We’ve built a space that is unique and feels like a great place to enjoy. It has an excellent restaurant, a fabulous cocktail bar, a wonderful garden. A very traditional, under-used space is now a destination in itself for our Friends.”

    All this bodes well for the expansion of the RA’s Burlington Gardens building in 2018. “We will serve our Friends on a much larger footprint, from Piccadilly to New Bond Street, with more exhibitions, improved facilities and a world-class lecture theatre.”

    • RA Magazine

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