William Shipley, Viscount Folkestone and Lord Romney, founded the Society of Arts in 1754. The main objective of the society was to promote the arts, productivity and trade. It was the first organisation ever set up in Britain to benefit art and science.
The Society of Arts started out in Covent Garden and then moved to premises off the Strand. By 1762 there were already 2,500 members or fellows of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). It 1760 it held the first ever public exhibition for a group of artists but later it tended to concentrate on industrial design rather than fine art. In 1851 the society was responsible for the Great Exhibition.