The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.
The Academy was founded by George III in 1768. The 34 founding Members were a group of prominent artists and architects including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir William Chambers who were determined to achieve professional standing for British art and architecture. They also wanted to provide a venue for exhibitions that would be open to the public; and to establish a school of art through which their skills and knowledge could be passed to future generations of practitioners.
The Academy today continues to aspire, in the words of its eighteenth-century founders, ‘to promote the arts of design’, that is: to present a broad range of visual art to the widest possible audience; to stimulate debate, understanding and creation through education; and to provide a focus for the interests of artists and art-lovers. The Academy has held an annual Summer Exhibition of works for sale since its formation and its first loan exhibition was held in 1870. The Academy now enjoys an unrivalled reputation as a venue for exhibitions of international importance.
The Academy is an independent institution. The Academicians are all practising painters, sculptors, engravers, printmakers, draughtsmen and architects and are elected by their peers. There are up to 80 Academicians and a number of Senior Academicians who are over 75. The current President of the Academy is Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, an architect. He is the 25th President in a period of 241 years. Past Royal Academicians include John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner, Lord Leighton and Stanley Spencer, while current Members include Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, David Hockney, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.
The Academy is governed by a Council selected by rotation from the Academicians, and includes the four principal Officers of the Royal Academy - the President, Keeper, Treasurer and the Secretary and Chief Executive, all of whom attend Council ex officio. In addition, following a review of governance in 2007, there can now be three co-opted outside members of Council, currently including John Coombe, the former Finance Director of GSK and Lord Justice Moses. Alongside Council, the Royal Academy Trust, chaired by The Hon Richard S Sharp, looks after the endowment and assists with fund-raising.