Smithsonian Plots London Outpost

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The Olympic Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Photo: Gerard McGovern/Flickr. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The Smithsonian Institute, run by the US government and based in Washington, DC, has reportedly been invited to set up shop overseas with a new outpost in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, according to the Guardian.

London mayor Boris Johnson announced last year that the city would transform the site of the 2012 Olympic Games into a cultural quarter in East London, creating up to 10,000 jobs. The ambitious project, already home to Anish Kapoor‘s ArcelorMittal Orbit, has been nicknamed”Olympicopolis” or “Borisopolis,” in reference to the “Albertopolis” of cultural institutions created by Prince Albert following the Great Exhibition of 1851. So far the city has begun enlisting such organizations as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the University College London, as well as dance theater Sadler’s Wells, which is in talks to open a performance space at the park.

Though the proposed museum would be the Smithsonian’s first expansion beyond the US, two of its current 19 museums are already located outside of the DC metropolitan area, as New York is home to both the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. The Smithsonian also oversees nine research facilities and a zoo.

Appropriately, the Smithsonian takes its name from James Smithson, a prominent British chemist. Smithson’s nephew and heir left his uncle’s fortune “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.”

The mayor’s office has declined to confirm the Smithsonian rumor, with a spokesperson telling the Guardian: “The mayor has made clear his ambitions for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with a view that it becomes home to a range of prestigious higher education, cultural and technological institutions…Exploratory discussions with several overseas bodies are being conducted which remain commercially confidential until further public announcements may be appropriate.”

Last year, Johnson admitted to being “in talks with other global cultural brands, since we think we will need at least one more cultural institution to achieve the critical mass and very high visitor numbers the site deserves.”


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