Back in 2015 ithe Guardian reported that The Smithsonian Institution was considering opening their first location outside the US, on the former Olympic site in East London. It would create exhibitions compiled from their galleries in Washington and New York. Today the committee will decide if this is to become a reality.
The Smithsonian is Federally funded and this is an election year. it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to open a European branch of a US museum, as this would not be good value for money in a country where only 36% of the citizens hold a passport.
It now transpires that The British Museum is considering moving into the £850m cultural hub which will also have a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and a Sadler’s Wells dance theatre. The government is also considering building a campus for the University of the Arts London at the location.
The Olympic developers have estimated that it will cost $50m (£33m) it would cost to construct the gallery which would consist of a 40,000 sq ft exhibition space within a larger building. Private funds would cover the operating costs, estimated at up to $7m (£4.6m) a year.
The acting secretary of the Smithsonian, Albert Horvath, told the New York Times that the project will give the museum the chance to raise its international profile.
“This is going to be about showing the best and the breadth of the Smithsonian,” he said. “We have 130m-plus objects at the Smithsonian. We have no shortage of things that we can certainly use to tell our story. So I am not concerned that there will be any diminution in the kinds of things we are doing here at our home base because of this.”
The Art Newspaper reported that, “The Smithsonian’s trustees are due to meet today, 11 April, to discuss the future of their Olympicopolis project. There will be “an announcement, whichever way it goes”, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian says”.
If the plan goes ahead, the new museum would open in 2021 as part of a new cultural quarter at the Stratford site of the London Olympics. The Smithsonian collection runs to 138m items, from works of art and space rockets to the Enola Gay – which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – and the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
The Smithsonian was originally funded “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” with money left in 1829 by an English scientist, James Smithson, who had never set foot on American soil.
Photo: Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution