The Smithsonian Is Opening Its First Overseas Location, With London’s V&A Museum

The Smithsonian is only paying for two part-time consulting curators on the project.

The V&A East. Image courtesy of Allies and Morrison Architects.

Get ready London: The Smithsonian Institute is coming to town! The American museum is teaming up with the Victoria and Albert Museum on the project, part of the £850 million ($1.1 billion) Olympicopolis arts hub opening at the 2012 Olympics site.

The deal isn’t official yet, but the Smithsonian’s board of regents has given the plan the green light, and secretary David J. Skorton is expected to sign off on it in about a month’s time. (The news was first reported by the Art Newspaper.)

In an email to artnet News, a press rep of the Smithsonian provided the language of the official vote, which “authorizes the secretary and his designees to execute the Joint Programmatic Agreement with the Victoria and Albert Museum for the purpose of developing and delivering Smithsonian-branded exhibitions and programming in a new museum to be built at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.”

The plan would be to loan Smithsonian artifacts to the London museum for a co-branded, co-curated gallery at the V&A East, and for the institute also to organize temporary exhibitions for the space.

The V&A East. Photo by Forbes Massie, courtesy Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The V&A East. Photo by Forbes Massie, courtesy Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The Smithsonian is hiring two part-time consulting curators for the project: Julian Raby, the former director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries; and Thomas Wide, a former guest curator at the Freer/Sackler. It won’t, however, be paying to lease the space or for its maintenance and operations. Instead, funding will come for the Foundation for Future London.

Originally, the Smithsonian had explored opening a full-fledged UK outpost on the site, a possibility first floated by former London mayor Boris Johnson in 2014. In 2016, the institution announced plans to partner with the V&A instead, which required less of a financial commitment. The new initiative, the plans for which have also been scaled back in size to accommodate an adjacent housing complex, is currently slated to open in 2023, two years later than originally projected.

In the US, the Smithsonian is considering opening a museum dedicated to women’s history, pending the passage of a Congressional bill, the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, H.R. 19. The institute also announced a new American Women’s History Initiative last month.

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