Free access, priority booking, exclusive private views and bringing a plus one are just some of the perks of having a membership at London’s top cultural institutions. So if you want to avoid missing out on blockbuster exhibitions, discover the best membership schemes that are worth paying for.
Probably the must-have of all membership schemes, the Art Fund’s National Art Pass gives you free access to over 240 museums, galleries and historic houses throughout the UK. And if that wasn’t enough, it also gives you 50% off entry to major exhibitions at over 20 venues, including London‘s Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery.
Set up in 1903 to help fund museums purchase works of importance for the nation, the Art Fund‘s members pass ultimately gives back to the UK. Included in your membership is a customizable members card and a subscription to the Art Fund’s magazine, Art Quarterly, which is crammed full of insightful articles about the variety of art exhibitions you can visit.
Annual Cost: £65 Individual, £97 Couple, £32 Under 26, £107 Family. Additional perk: a 25% reduction if you pay via Direct Debit.
The Brutalist magnificence of the Barbican Centre is world-renowned. Set within a sprawling housing complex, the Grade II listed Barbican Centre stages – as one would expect of Europe’s largest multi-arts venue – some of the most spectacular dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts (Random International’s Rain Room) events in the cultural calendar.
With a forthcoming season that includes a celebration of avant-garde American composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams, the first major UK exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Basquiat: Boom for Real) and the world premiere of Obsession, directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Jude Law, becoming a member of the Barbican means you get to experience all aspects of the arts under one roof. The perks include: priority booking, no booking fees, free access to exhibitions, invites to members-only events, 20% off cinema tickets for members and a guest, discounts on music and theatre events and access to the Members’ Lounge with a guest.
Annual Cost: £50 Membership, £105 Membership Plus. Additional perk: Discount if paid via Direct Debit.
As one of London’s oldest art institutions, founded in 1768 by painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and 35 other artists and architects, the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House on Piccadilly is the perfect place to catch a blockbuster exhibition by some of the greatest artists from the Canon of Art History and then relax in the renovated Keeper’s House, which is for Friends only between 10am to 4pm.
Currently undergoing an expansion into the former Museum of Mankind, the Royal Academy not only presents sell-out shows like David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, The Real Van Gogh, Ai Weiwei, Abstract Impressionism and Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, it also holds the annual Summer Exhibition; a barometer of art trends and a variety of members-only events. So becoming a Friend of the RA means you’ll never miss the chance to see world-class exhibitions. Just some of the exceptional benefits include skipping queues with priority booking, bringing a guest to shows, attending exclusive private views, seeing shows before they open, a subscription to the RA magazine, all-day access to The Keeper’s House where you can enjoy happy hour in the Shenkman Bar, and a 10% discount in the shop.
Annual Cost: £50 Young Friend (16 – 25 year olds), £107 Standard Friend, £150 Joint Friends. Additional perks: Discount if paid via Direct Debit.
Attracting record figures of over five million visitors a year, the Tate galleries (Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives) are an art force to be reckoned with. With a collection that spans British art and international contemporary art in London alone, Tate is the ideal cultural stalwart for some of the most impressive world-touring exhibitions that this year alone include Wolfgang Tillmans, Alberto Giacometti, The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London and Modigliani.
Imagine what such a venue offers its members – unlimited free admission to all exhibitions, access to Members Rooms, which include the new airy space in the recently opened Switch House designed by Herzog & De Meuron, a subscription to Tate Etc, free entry for up to six children aged 16 and under, 10% discount in all Tate shops, special events including talks and extended opening-hours and an exclusive welcome pack designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed. You’ll also be helping Tate acquire new works of art for their free permanent collection.
Annual Cost: £70 Member, £110 Plus guest, £150 Plus 3 guests. Additional perks: Add London Private Views for £40 and Tate Liverpool or St Ives for just £5.
With its recently revamped Renaissance galleries and impressive exhibition history, which has included Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and David Bowie is, the Victoria and Albert Museum, fondly known as the V&A, is the ultimate destination for all art and design fans. With an enviable collection of over 2.3 million objects from around the world and spanning 5,000 years, the V&A is not only full of exquisite displays and celebrated temporary exhibitions, it is also a delightful museum to spend time in.
The V&A members scheme is a no-brainer. You get free, unlimited, priority entry to all V&A exhibitions. You can enjoy previews to major exhibitions, the comforts of the members room (with a new space opening in 2017) 10% off in the shop and cafés, attend one of the many special members’ events programmed throughout the year and read up on all art and design matters in the V&A magazine.
Annual Cost: £64 (£89 with guest) Standard, £35 (£60 with guest) Under-26. Additional perk: £5 discount for over-60s and save £7 if you pay by Direct Debit.
Want more art inspiration? Why not invest in these book for art lovers around the world.