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British Museum Joins Abu Dhabi Development

The British Museum has struck a multimillion-pound deal to help launch a museum in the Middle East designed by Lord Foster, reports The Times. In its biggest overseas venture, the institution will be unveiled as the official partner of the national museum of Abu Dhabi. The new building will sit alongside offshoots of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums.

As part of a ten-year contract, the British Museum will lend some of its treasures to the venue and help it set up and curate exhibitions. The museum’s galleries will be based on a number of themes, one promoting “the story of oil.” Critics are likely to argue that the British Museum is being too commercially driven for a publicly funded body. However, its undisclosed annual fee could help fund a $223 million extension in London as government spending for the arts faces cuts.

Named after the sheikh who first joined the seven kingdoms of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, the Zayed National Museum will be the “cornerstone project” of a multibillion-dollar cultural development on Saadiyat Island, off the Abu Dhabi coast. The museum is due to open in 2013 and, in line with its British partner, will not charge an entrance free.

“We never wanted this project to be our outpost,” said Justin Morris, the British Museum’s head of development. “We didn’t want a British Museum Abu Dhabi. Our preferred route is to work with partners and that’s what we’ll be doing here.”

The building will be designed by Foster, the architect behind the British Museum’s Great Court in London, the Gherkin tower in the City, and the restored dome of the Reichstag in Berlin. Foster, whose Abu Dhabi plans will be revealed later this year, will not be the only architect flying the cultural flag for Britain on Saadiyat Island. Zaha Hadid, who designed the aquatics center for the London 2012 Olympics, has been commissioned to build a performing-arts center.