The Culture24 Guide to Art, Culture and Heritage membership schemes for Christmas and New Year

| 14 December 2012
a website screenshsot of the ICA membership page
The ICA is just one of dozens of museums and galleries offering enticing membership schemes for 2013.

There are some great museum and gallery membership offers out there for 2013 - and they make great Christmas presents or something for your New Year's resolution list.

Find a museum and gallery membership offer to suit you in this region-by-region guide...


Institute of Contemporary Arts, £40/£10 (joint £70)

Portraits by revered German photographer Juergen Teller and a retrospective of New York fashionistas the Bernadette Corporation are two of the exhibitions to catch at the ICA this year, where the inventive membership masterplan includes 25% off limited edition prints and cheap cinema tickets once a week.

Free preview screenings, Private View invites and exclusive access to the ICA Studio also catch the eye.

Royal Academy of Arts, £45-£90

Buying someone RA membership gives them access to the swanky Sir Hugh Casson and Belle Shenkman rooms for Friends.

Outside of those exclusive surroundings, they’ll also be able to attend previews, talks, events, get into exhibitions for free and receive the Academy magazine.

National Portrait Gallery, £45-£65 (joint £75-£115)

Always a lively place to visit, NPG membership includes free entry to shows, three annual after-hours Private Views and previews of all their big shows.

A gift pack can be arranged if you order before Sunday (December 16). Prices depend on how many guest passes your present-opener might like during the course of the year.

Tate, £60-£67 (joint/family £90-£127)

Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern, Lowry at Tate Britain and the glam era at Tate Liverpool are among the highlights at the Tate in 2013, and the initial cost of membership seems pretty reasonable considering the number of exhibitions your lucky recipient will get free entry to.

It also includes access to Members’ Rooms at Tate Britain and Tate Modern, a magazine, a bi-monthly guide, fast-track exhibition entry and exclusive viewing opportunities.

London Bus Museum, £30 (joint £45, family £55)

Twinned with Brooklands Museum (see South-East), the heritage stop-off for London buses relies heavily on members to stay running and, in many cases, provide trustees and staff.

An annual Members’ Day offers bus rides, a market and more, and there’s an exclusive website section keeping subscribers up-to-date with special events and offers. Bus trips often head to fellow museums, as well as events and rallies.

website screenshot from the Natural History Museum members page
The Natural History Museum membership package includes fast-track entry and a private members room.
Natural History Museum, £38-£65 (joint/family £70-£88)

All sorts of reasons to be cheerful if you back the NHM: you’ll be helping protect its glorious Grade I-listed building, as well as backing the work of more than 300 scientists working on global concerns and helping care for some of the finest natural collections in the world.

A quarterly subscription to the museum’s magazines – Evolve for adults, Wild World for children – is also a decent perk.

British Museum, £18-£55

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum is just one of the spectacular exhibitions coming up at the British Museum in 2013, and you can give someone unlimited free entry to their reliably awe-inspiring exhibitions.

Special events for members run throughout the year, and you’ll also be helping the fundraising appeal for a new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre at one of the greatest museums in the world.

Victoria and Albert Museum, £35-£64

David Bowie, Treasures of the Royal Courts and oil sketches by John Constable are among the highlights in a compelling year coming up at the V&A.

Gift membership offers unlimited priority entry to the exhibitions taking place around its glitzy corridors, as well as a Members’ Room, a magazine, regular events and a special Welcome Tour.

Kew Gardens, £69-£95

Bat off the stresses of pesky everyday life with year-round free access to the 750-acre tranquil terrains of Wakehurst and the Gardens.

Members play a part in upholding the noble pursuit of exotic plant conservation, enjoying access to an amazing array of species. A gift to enjoy whatever the season.

London Transport Museum, £26/£24

Covent Garden’s wonderland of wheels is a safe bet for anyone likely to be fidgeting in their armchair and dreaming of engines and gearsticks on Christmas Day.

As well as unlimited entry, periodicals, organised trips, talks and a discount in the museum shop, membership also includes cheap entry on days out to the Mid Hants Railway, the Kent and East Sussex Railway and Rotherhithe’s Brunel Engine House. Steamy.

Royal Museums Greenwich £50/£35 (joint/family £70-£80)

A hefty treat of a present heralding year-round visits to the Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum and blockbuster exhibitions (the latest one features work by American photographic pioneer Ansel Adams), the planetarium, the Meridian Courtyard and membership of associated art and astronomy groups.

The prices offer a decent saving on a range of attractions and displays which charge admission fees to non-members. In its own right, Greenwich remains a pretty astonishing place to visit throughout the year.

Design Museum, £28-£55

This is the place to discover the past and future of design, and unlimited admission is one of several reasons to buy membership for the design fan in your life.

Previews, discounts on special events and in the shop are some of the other benefits. The museum can arrange to send membership directly as a gift.


website screenshot from the Brooklands museum membership web page
Brooklands membership - an ideal gift for petrol heads and transport enthusiasts.

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, £30 (joint/family £45-£55)

One for flight fans and adrenaline junkies – you’ll probably have heard plenty about Brooklands already if you know anyone who fits that bill.

The basic level of membership is pretty exciting: it includes cheap entry to the Brooklands Concorde Experience, regular social events, a subscription to the Brooklands Bulletin and the chance to get involved with the museum’s evolving masterplan of mechanics.

National Museum of Computing, Buckinghamshire, £45

A codecracking dream to usurp any festive charades, Bletchley Park and the independent Museum of Computing pay tribute to the cerebral Olympics of the wartime decipherers and explore the latest innovations.

Open Days for members allow them to sneak behind the scenes, and inclusive invites to exhibition previews and unseen collections also sound enticing.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, £10-£30 (joint £44)

The converted 18th century townhouse at Pallant is a fantastic place to visit. Its contemporary art wing attracts a year-round programme of excellent exhibitions, flanked by winding staircases and an elegant outdoor garden.

Membership means unlimited entry to the displays, a monthly magazine and a range of visits, events and coffee mornings at one of the best galleries in the South East.

Hovercraft Museum, Gosport, £25

The entirely volunteer-run Hovercraft Museum opened when founder Warwick Jacobs failed to persuade his mum to let him house a 15-seater craft in her back garden. Twenty-six years on, the handful of open days it has each year are sporadic chances to see arguably the most unusual transport collection in the country.

Fair to say, then, that this is the antidote to buying someone a few pairs of socks. Discounted rates for special shows, free entry to the museum, library and archives, a newsletter and “special privileges” also feature.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, £35 (£50 joint)

You could spend several days in Oxford’s famous central museum and never get to the bottom of the collections, centred on the Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art and antiquities stretching back to Prehistoric times.

Join a group which has donated more than £1 million to one of the country’s most important museums since 1969. Free entry to special exhibitions inside the 39 galleries, activities programmes, expert tours and a subscription to The Ashmolean Magazine are a few of the rewards.

East of England

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, £30 (joint/family £48)

We know the Fitzwilliam as a museum with one of the finest collections anywhere in the world – most notably this year, it succeeded in a National Gallery-backed £4 million bid to save a 17th century Poussin masterpiece.

Membership provides behind-the-scenes tours of its hallowed halls, opportunities to see other treasures held by the Colleges of the University of Cambridge, day trips to other historic venues, exclusive shopping events in the Courtyard and annual summer and Christmas parties.

Imperial War Museum Duxord, Friends of Duxford, £52/£40 (joint/family £69-£85)

The IWM are the custodians of the best-preserved World War II airfield in Europe and it's also an extremely popular location. Organisers say their members are “an integral part” of the community which cares for the ancient military site.

Evening photoshoots, rides in military vehicles, film shows in a nostalgic cinema, trips out, access to a special marquee and enclosure during air shows and a range of Special Interest Days and pleasure flight discounts are just a few of the benefits.

The East Anglian Railway Museum, £9-£20 (family £34)

There are some museums where members get the chance to play an instrumental role in how things are run, and the East Anglian Railway Museum, near Colchester, is definitely one such institution.

There are also chances to help out with engineering work on steam engines, carriages and other beautiful bygone vehicle types, organised through regular meetings.


Bristol Art Gallery, £20 (joint £30)

From the spectacular new M Shed to the historic Bristol Art Gallery, Blaise Castle House Museum and the explanatorily-titled Georgian House, the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery have played an important part in the cultural evolution of the city since 1947.

They’re a social group, offering events in period houses, visits to major shows in London and across the country, sneak previews of art exhibitions, lectures, activities and more.

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, Tetbury, £31.50/£26.50 (joint £58/£51)

The Friends of Westonbirt have contributed more than £2.5 million to the national cathedral of trees since 1985.

Free entry for members and accompanied children, a quarterly magazine, special events and volunteering opportunities are among the benefits. They’ve also struck a free admission deal with lots of other gardens and horticultural centre around the country, including the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, Wakehurst Place in Sussex and the national gardens of Wales and Scotland.

National Maritime Museum Cornwall, £18 (joint £30, family £40)

The Falmouth harbour maritime landmark is worth the membership fee before they throw in free entry to the Eden Project, Tate St Ives and Trebah Garden during November and free admission to shows at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.


Laing Art Gallery, £12/£5 (joint/family £18-£21)

Enjoy exclusive exhibition openings, behind-the-scenes tours, a programme of talks, art trips, an annual calendar and more by joining the supporters of one of Tyneside’s finest art galleries.

The Friends group has been established for more than 40 years and, with budget cuts giving the north-east an unwelcome festive surprise recently, there’s never been a better time to get involved.

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, £25/£15 (joint £40)

The MIMA Friends have held a book signing and meet-the-artist session with Anish Kapoor and talks by directors and curators this year, as well as private views for all the best exhibitions on Teesside.

Treat an art aficionado to membership and they’ll be able to join exclusive art trips and behind-the-scenes tours, as well as take advantage of shop and café discounts.


a website screenshot of the Liverpool Museums membership page
National Museum Liverpool membership opens up a number of sites across Merseyside

Anson Engine Museum, £30 (joint £40-£60)

Winning increasing popularity as one of the country’s most passionately-run independent museums, the Anson probably knows it’s pitching to a receptive audience when it calls on new members to meet like-minded folk and donate skills and enthusiasm to its halls of ancient engines.

An evocative place with real personality, the museum itself features the first diesel engine built in the UK and a dedicated steam engine section.

National Museums Liverpool, £17-£25 (joint/group £35-£100)

Even for a large historic city, Liverpool has an extraordinary range of museums – the sleekly reimagined Museum of Liverpool, the atmospheric Walker art Gallery and the International Slavery Museum are three of the seven you’ll be signing your lucky present-opener up to with this one.

The current deal offers an extra three months, meaning your gift will last until March 2014.

Museum of Transport, Manchester, £20/£15 (joint/family £35)

Based in a Grade II-listed bus garage, the Transport Museum features fleets from 1969 onwards – Ashton, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Wigan are a few of the places represented in these clever double-decker restorations.

New members become part of the Greater Manchester Transport Society. Everyone is encouraged to help out and anyone can, with a weekly helper session inviting members to offer their skills and find out more. Festivals and rallies are also regularly held.


Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, £16.25/£13 (family £35)

If you want to know why membership of The Herbert is worth investing part of your present budget in, take a look at dedicated adoration site

Benefits include a discount in the shop and café at the former Family Friendly Museum award winner, as well as “unique” guided tours and talks, a place at VIP launches, an online Friends forum, a quarterly prize draw and plenty more.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, £20/£15 (joint £30)

Another easy decision to make here – as well as Birmingham’s flagship museum, membership provides free entry to special exhibitions in the refurbished Gas Hall and Waterhall and half-price entry to the Thinktank science centre.

Visitors will also get a discount at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Ironbridge Gorge shops, weekend trips and tours to galleries overseas, talks, lectures and a quarterly magazine. Membership lasts 15 months.

Black Country Living Museum, Dudley, £24 (joint/family £42/£52)

Millions have visitors have enjoyed this living history museum, opened in the 1980s to honour the industrial beginnings of the Midlands during the early 19th century.

They offer exclusive, member-only events, priority booking, a healthy discount for friends and family, cut-price food and drink and unlimited free entry.

The Wedgwood Museum, £20-£28 (joint/family £35-£45)

Looking all the way back to Potteries ceramic industry forefather Josiah Wedgwood I, the Wedgwood is still a pretty special place to visit despite its well-publicised difficulties during the past few years.

Fans of flawless textile design and ancient industrial history will enjoy 12 months’ free admission, a lecture programme, complimentary newsletters and private view invites to exhibitions.


website screenshot from Museums Sheefield membership page
Museums Sheffield has a thriving and much-loved Friends membership scheme...

Museums Sheffield, £20-£35

Museums Sheffield is another group to have suffered from government funding decisions, so it’s a good time to support them.

The Millennium Gallery is a magnificent venue to visit, the Graves Gallery is always reliable for a corking art show and Weston Park tells the story of the city. A V&A Members Room, discounts and an annual celebration make up your gift.

National Railway Museum, York, £20/£10 (joint/family £22.50-£35)

The Friends of The National Railway Museum was established in 1977 to help look after some of the country’s best train heritage exhibits.

Members’ meetings in York, Shildon and London back up exclusive events. There are also chances to work as a volunteer in the museum and find out more about their good work behind the scenes, making this another thoughtful present for transport heritage enthusiasts.

National Media Museum, Bradford, £26-£35

The home of the National Photography, Cinematography, Television and New Media Collections is also a home from home for fans of moving and non-moving images.

Revolving perks for members include exclusive screenings, special offers and curator-led tours. They also give away two cinema tickets to each member, in addition to discounts on film tickets throughout the year.


Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen, £25/£15 (joint/family £40)

Aberdeen’s Centre for Contemporary Arts is a grassroots place, perhaps best known for a really imaginative range of classes, mainly focused on printmaking.

It’s also a place to see up-and-coming, often edgy or subversive exhibitions. Membership includes advance publicity material, fame on a dedicated Friends’ Wall and concessions on those creative workshops.

National Galleries Scotland, £40/£20 (joint £55)

The National Gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art and the recently-refurbished Portrait Gallery are a treat for anyone near Edinburgh.

Free admission to exhibitions is included for accompanying children, and other benefits include invites, updates, lectures and regular events.

National Museums Scotland, £24-£32 (group/family £39-£52)

The old marketing cliché of something for everyone might, for once, not be that far from the truth here – membership gives you a pass to special exhibitions at the national museums of Scotland, War, Costume, Rural Life and Flight, plus the Collections Centre and its 1.2 million insects.

Talks, lectures, exclusive events and a regular magazine also make it great value. Buy before Sunday (December 16) and you can get a gift pack including a swish leather bound travel journal.


Ffotogallery, £15/£10 (gallery), £30/£20 (darkroom)

Choose from two types of gift courtesy of the national photo agency in Wales: gallery membership supports an exciting exhibition programme of established and new photographers, while a darkroom sign-up allows access to special facilities for devoted snappers.

The darkroom is mainly available during the week, and all members receive access to a special library and archive, plus a discount on books and publications.

National Museums Wales, £15/£3 (joint £20)

Seven museums make for an impressive present at a modest price – the brilliant National Museum Cardiff, Swansea’s imposing National Waterfront Museum and venues devoted to industrial, textile, national and Roman history are all included.

Amgueddfa Cymru also offers a discount in the shops, restaurants and cafés at all the venues and regular magazines and newsletters.

Northern Ireland

National Museums NI, £25 (joint/family £40/£50-£60)

Four museums are included in this one, including unlimited free entry to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park.

That represents a significant saving for individual fans and supporters with families. Discounts in the gift shops, cafés and tea rooms and a guide to the venues are also worth looking forward to.

Other arts, culture and heritage membership schemes…

website screenshot
The Art Fund membership scheme unlocks a surprising number of museum and gallery doors in the UK...

English Heritage
£47 (joint/family/senior £35-£82)

Another great gift for the Heritage visitor in the family, English Heritage membership offers free entry to hudreds of historic locations including Stonehenge and York's Cold War bunker.

There's also reduced entry to affiilate properties and events, generous free admission for kids and a range of member's offers.  

Society of Museum Archaeologists, £12-£20

A good choice if you know someone who’ll be spending Christmas in front of the fire dreaming of donning their wellies and digging up a field.

A three-day annual conference, training, an annual journal, the Museum Archaeologist News and monographs at a reduced rate are some of the benefits.

Royal Horticultural Society, £51

Free entry to 80 gardens nationwide and offers at 60 partner gardens make the gift offer from the RHS an ideal present.

A monthly magazine offers tips on how to transform green space, packed with advice from experts. The Society can send the membership activation code directly to your lucky gardening amigo.

The Art Fund/National Art Pass, £18.75-£50 (joint/family £52.50-£70/£61.50-£82)

From Jersey to Scarborough, the National Art Pass is an excellent choice for gallery goers keen to get stuck in at some of the best galleries and museums across the country.

More than 200 venues mean this is probably the most wide-ranging pass you can buy. It also ensures a quarterly magazine, discounted entry to various major exhibitions, numerous special offers and a chance to back co-ordinators The Art Fund, who are instrumental in supporting the development of the nation’s galleries and museums.

National Trust, £18.75-£53 (joint/family £66.37-£93.50)

The explorer you know might fancy a coastal view from Northern Ireland’s Castle Drogo or a wander around Anglesey Abbey. Wherever they live, Trust membership equates to dozens of potential mini-holidays in one neat gift.

The accompanying handbook comes in useful when choosing between more than 300 sites to visit, as does a periodic magazine and regional newsletters. Recipients get three months’ free membership if you set up a direct debit.

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