The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex, announced Wednesday that it has canceled plans to add an inflatable pavilion due to lack of funding. The Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was to have a seasonal pavilion inside covered with an inflatable bubble that would be used for performances and programs relating to arts and culture. The project had already undergone four years of planning and fundraising, but fell short of the estimated $12.5 million construction cost.
In addition to construction costs, additional funding would be needed for operating, installing, and storing the inflatable structure when not in use. The Hirshhorn had already raised or received commitments close to $8 million from donors, including $1 million from Bloomberg, L.P. as a naming gift. Approximately $1.5 million had been used for planning and design expenses. The entire project was estimated to cost $15.5 million. This amount combined construction, operating, and storage costs. The Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture for the Smithsonian, Richard Kurin, has said that any funds donated for this bubble would be returned. Most of the donations, however, are still in the form of pledges.
The original estimate was much lower, around $5 million. But, according to Kurin, nothing like this had ever been built before. It would have been easier to determine costs if this were a “conventional building.” The final decision to cancel the bubble project was made by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough after meeting with the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees, museum staff, art directors both inside and outside the museum complex, budget officers, and other personnel. A meeting of the institution’s Board of Regents had already been scheduled for June 24th to discuss the project’s fate. In light of this, the current Director of Hirshhorn, Richard Koshalek, has stepped up his previously announced resignation to take effect on June 29th. He has been with the Smithsonian since 2009, and was the one who suggested the project. He will continue until August 31st as an adviser to the Under Secretary on exhibitions, programming, acquisitions, and curatorial matters regarding public spaces.
The bubble was designed by the New York-based firm of Diller, Scolfidio, & Renfro. It did not have the full support of the board, nor did it have the funding it needed. Added to this was that the bubble would only be in use two months out of the year. According to Secretary Clough, the museum is currently “facing significant financial challenges that affect the entire Smithsonian.”
The institute is named after James Smithson, a wealthy British scientist who left his entire fortune to the United States, even though he’d never been in America. The stipulation was that the money be used to establish a place in Washington called the Smithsonian Institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” When Smithson died, his money had to changed from gold sovereigns to U.S. currency–resulting in a total of $500,000. The Smithsonian Institution was established by an Act of Congress in 1846 and signed by President James K. Polk. It was to be a trust administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian. Smithson’s dream was fulfilled 17 years after his death. Today, it is the largest museum complex in the world with 19 museums and galleries, and the National Zoo. All but two of the museums are in Washington, D.C. The American Indian Museum-Heye Center and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum are in New York City.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent
Source 1: Google News