We all know the story of British scientist James Smithson, whose 1826 last will and testament ultimately led to the creation of “the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Almost 200 years later, the Smithsonian may be poised to return the favor.
Last year, the Mayor of London’s Office approached Smithsonian leadership to explore our possible interest in participating in the redevelopment of the former Olympic Park in East London as part of a proposed new educational and cultural quarter in the city. East London is one of the most diverse areas of London and London itself is arguably one of the most diverse cities in the world. The Mayor’s Office has repeatedly and enthusiastically encouraged the Smithsonian, as the leading American cultural organization, to participate in this ambitious new development. While the Smithsonian has not made a firm commitment to participate, the Board of Regents today announced that they have agreed to proceed with negotiations.
What does the project entail?
The Mayor of London approached the Smithsonian during the spring of 2014 about the Smithsonian’s participation in the redevelopment of the former Olympic property in east London. The idea is to create a cultural and educational quarter. The project is managed by the London Legacy Development Corporation, a public-private entity operated through the Mayor’s office.
The former Olympic Park is currently undergoing major revitalization. The Olympic Village is being converted to housing. The Park will also include commercial space, a university campus, sports and entertainment venues and schools.
What does this project have to do with the Smithsonian?
A Smithsonian presence in London would allow us an unprecedented opportunity to share our expertise in history, art, culture, and science with a global audience; it provides access to Smithsonian exhibitions and programs for the millions of people who do not visit the United States; and it encourages international collaborations.
The new exhibits and programs created for the exhibition space in London would travel the world and come home to the U.S. for the benefit of Americans visiting the Mall museums and museums around the country.
What type of presence would the Smithsonian have in this cultural center?
It’s too soon to tell. We know that if we do participate, the Smithsonian would have about 40,000 square feet of space in the center. What types of exhibitions and educational/public programming that would include is still to be determined.
What other cultural organizations are participating in the project?
Other partners in the project include the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sadler’s Wells Theatre and University College London.
When will the center open?
The anticipated opening date is 2021.
London approached us with a very well-formed concept for this cultural center. A London presence gives the Smithsonian a great opportunity to share our knowledge, expertise and collections with a truly international audience. London offers the Smithsonian a visitor base, infrastructure and potential global collaborations in the arts and culture fields. We are already recognized internationally for our scientific research; this collaboration would help us build international recognition for our arts and cultural programming.
How will we pay for it?
The operation of the site will be fully supported with trust funds specifically raised for the London project and will not detract from existing activities.
Shouldn’t we be using this money to reopen A&I or finish NMAAHC? Does this project compete with these initiatives?
The funds that are in place are specifically for the London project. London helped us identify donors that were interested in specifically supporting a Smithsonian presence there.
The Smithsonian has always raised money for a number of projects at the same time, and we have an outstanding record doing that. We’re confident that donors will continue to support these and a variety of projects.
Will we be sending staff and objects to London to open this exhibition?
It’s too soon to tell. At this point, we don’t know what form our presence in London would take, so we don’t know what, if any, objects from our collections will be required. At some point, we will need to hire a staff, including a director, for the space, but we don’t know at this time if the staff would be U.S. citizens that would work abroad in London or if we would hire British citizens.
Is this a done deal? Is there a Smithsonian in London?
The Regents announced today that they have authorized the senior leadership at the Smithsonian to begin negotiations with London. Negotiations will begin immediately, and the final terms and conditions will be subject to the approval of the Board of Regents’ executive committee,
This video clip of “Olympicopolis” shows the culture and university district triangular site (4.5 acres) located on Stratford Waterfront; the former Olympic Stadium; the London Aquatics Centre; and the University College London (UCL) campus site.
Credit: London Legacy Development Corp.
Posted: 27 January 2015