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External image of new V&A East Museum. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Smithsonian Backpedals on Plans for Permanent Space in East London

The Smithsonian in Washington, DC, announced on Monday that it has scaled back plans to open a permanent space in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) new O’Donnell + Tuomey–designed building in East London. Called V&A East, the museum is part of the East Bank, a new culture and education quarter in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which will also house BBC Music and University of Art London’s College of Fashion, among other organizations. Instead of launching a UK outpost, the Smithsonian will cocurate an exhibition with the V&A, which will inaugurate V&A East once it opens in 2023 and will run for two years.

The partnership between the two institutions will also extend to working with East London’s communities and local organizations in order to strengthen an international leadership and cultural exchange initiative called STEP (Shared Training and Employment Program). STEP was conceived to help young adults—between the ages of eighteen and thirty—in underserved communities pursue careers in the cultural sector. Participants will travel to the United States for an immersive experience at the Smithsonian, where they will attend daily seminars and meetings with conservators, curators, historians, and administrative staff. They will then work for a year at an organization affiliated with the East Bank.

“I am pleased to solidify the collaborations with East Bank,” Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch said in statement. “During my first six months as secretary, I carefully evaluated various Smithsonian programs, including our involvement in the development of East Bank at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This exhibition and young people’s leadership program aligns with my priorities of education programs, diversity and inclusion, and museum leadership development.” He added that V&A East is a “magnificent achievement for London, and I am honored for the Smithsonian to be a part of this project.”