The Smithsonian has agreed to become part of the Olympicopolis cultural hub in Stratford – the first time the prestigious museum has had a permanent gallery outside the US in its 170-year history.
The Institution has announced it will work with the Victoria And Albert Museum on a joint space as part of V&A East on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, abandoning plans for a stand-alone operation.
The £1.3billion Olympicopolis centre will host the V&A and Sadler’s Wells as well as University College London and other education centres by 2021, underscoring the notion that the cultural centre of gravity is shifting east.
Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton said: “Through a collaboration with one of the world’s great museums, we will be able to inspire and educate more people than ever before. With the V&A in London, we can build bridges to other countries and continents and share our work with the world.”
Although planning is in its early stages, Mr Skorton said he expected the permanent gallery space would draw from both organisations’ collections and expertise where they intersected.
He said: “This would not be a ‘Smithsonian outpost in London’. It would be a collaboration with the V&A, giving both of us opportunities to engage with diverse audiences in innovative ways. What we learn through this collaboration will enable us to better tell our stories not only in London, but in the United States and around the world.”
The Smithsonian, founded in 1846, is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, a zoo and nine research centres. The museums receive 26.7million visitors a year.
The number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at nearly 138million, including more than 127million specimens and artefacts at the National Museum of Natural History.
The V&A’s Tim Reeve said: “Working closely with the Smithsonian, as well as the other partners in and around the Olympic Park, is one of the key reasons the V&A is committed to developing a new museum, and this proposed collaboration represents an exciting opportunity for us to explore the synergies between two world-class institutions.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Growing London’s cultural sector is one of my core priorities, so I welcome this collaboration between two of the world’s most prestigious institutions.
“These plans would create an exciting new destination in east London, which will help many more people enjoy the extraordinary collections managed by the Smithsonian and the V&A. It is great news for everyone who wants to see London’s cultural and creative sectors even bigger and better.”