Royal Academy reveals Keeper's House plans

The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 by King George III, most famous for various eccentricities and being head of state during some of the most violent, conflict-ridden periods of European history, not least of all the American War of Independence.
He was also known for being an extremely generous and giving man, reportedly releasing as much as half of his personal income to various charitable endeavours. It was in a similar spirit that he helped bring into existence the Royal Academy, bestowing it with a mission to “promote the arts of design”.
What this translated into was a desire for the art institution to act as a catalyst for being a space that showcases a wide range of artworks to as expansive an audience as possible; the nuance of which would promote debate, inspire others to create and help others grow as individuals through this establishment. Education, therefore, was implied.
Today, the Royal Academy has stayed true to its original maxim, and is firmly established as one of the world’s leading art organisations, unique in its composition – entirely independent and privately funded – with over 94,000 members to boot.
In its latest development, the academy has announced that it is to open up and refurbish the Keeper’s House, which is indeed a precise description of what the space was once used for (the keeper’s de facto home, a base from which he looked after the buildings and “locked all the locks at night”).
The idea behind the project is to create a much-needed space at the Royal Academy, not just for its friends – how it goes about describing its members – but also for the general public. It’ll thus be a well-furnished and beautiful space for people to meet, relax and enjoy a “cultural environment”, because in this day and age, that is more important than ever.
“The Royal Academy has a long reputation as a home for cultural events, debates and talks and as a place to consider the visual arts,” commented Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the art institution.
“I am delighted that this project means we have the space to do more with our public programme and to encourage new groups to visit us in the future. The beautiful plans by Long & Kentish and designs by Sir David Chipperfield which are mindful of the past and the future are in keeping with previous, well-loved improvements to the Royal Academy.”
Projected to cost £5.7 million, the initiative will more than double the current space available to friends, will extend, renovate and modernise both the Sir Hugh Casson and Belle Shenkman rooms – introducing Wi-Fi for example – and create the conditions to make a small enclosed garden by the Keeper’s House accessible.
Beyond the physical changes, the Royal Academy will, in the spirit of its original conception, introduce a brand new cultural programme attached to the Keeper’s House, which will involve engaging exhibitions, workshops, readings and talks by artists. Key to this will be a commitment to diversity – art should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background, income or tastes.
“The Royal Academy is a unique and unmatchable institution – there truly is nowhere quite like it in the world,” said Stephen Fry, friend and trustee of the Royal Academy Trust.
“When I come here I appreciate world class exhibitions and debates in an environment that feels creative, friendly and homely and I’m thrilled that this quirky home for all those who love art is getting some fresh, new spaces that will help us to enjoy visiting even more.”
The redevelopment of the Keeper’s House is just one part of a bigger plan to give a complete overhaul to the Royal Academy’s two-acre site, with work set to extend to 2018, which will see it mark its 250th anniversary in spectacular fashion. That this is possible in today’s world, with the spectre of uncertainty lingering like some Shakespearian apparition, is laudable.
“We are very grateful to our friends for their continued support and to the Royal Academicians for their creativity and ideas, which have inspired this project and will bring the rooms to life,” praised Christopher Le Brun, president of the Royal Academy.
Though some of the academy’s wealthier patrons and friends have undoubtedly contributed generously, those who nevertheless “chip in” with their small gifts deserve credit. Mr Le Brun acknowledged this. Even more special is that there is very much a want for art and people are prepared to pay for it.