Smithsonian Institution may be headed to London

The planned site of the Smithsonian Institution's gallery, at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (Photo: Kevin Allen/London Legacy Development Corp)

For the first time in its 168 year history, the Smithsonian Institution may be "coming home," in a manner of speaking. Originally founded with funds from British scientist James Smithson, it has never established a longterm exhibition outside the United States. But recently unveiled plans for a new culture and arts center to be built at London’s Olympic Park site in the UK.

The plans make up part of a larger £141 million (roughly US$210 million) scheme to turn the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which was site of the 2012 London Olympics, in to a 4.5 acre (1.8 hectare) cultural hub with the unfortunate title of Olympicopolis. Olympicopolis will also contain universities, a museum, and dance theater, and is expected to host over 1.5 million visitors per year.

Details are scant at this stage, but Smithsonian plans for a 3,700 sq m (40,000 sq ft) gallery that will feature permanent and rotating exhibits, and a series of programs and activities. Entry will be free of charge, and costs will be covered by private philanthropy, temporary-exhibit admission fees, and retail income.

The gallery is slated to open in 2021, and to that end, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the London Legacy Development Corporation have secured initial contributions of $50 million to construct the facility and to transport Smithsonian's exhibits and programs to London. Negotiations concerning the lease are to begin immediately.

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