Two weeks ago, the Hirshhorn Museum’s Board of Trustees met to make a recommendation for the fate of the Seasonal Inflatable Structure project (popularly known as the “bubble”), a massive balloon to serve as a space for lectures, conferences and temporary think tanks on art and culture. Board members were divided over the financial viability of the project.
Today, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the project will not go forward due to cost concerns. In an email sent to Smithsonian employees, Richard Kurin, the Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, said simply that “‘The Bubble,’ a proposed venue at the Hirshhorn to be used for two months each year for programming devoted to arts and culture, will not move forward due to financial uncertainties.”
According to a press release, the decision was made by Kurin and Secretary Wayne Clough after consulting with the Smithsonian Board of Regents, the Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees, museum staff, art museum directors, budget officers and others. “Without the prospect of needed funding, we cannot undertake this project at the same time we are facing significant financial challenges that affect the entire Smithsonian,” Clough said.
The bubble, which had been designed by the New York-based firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, was envisioned as an architecturally daring addition to the museum that would help establish it as a forum for world-class arts events and conferences. But the cost of building and installing the structure was estimated to be $12.5 million, with only $7.8 million in funds raised or pledged thus far. Additionally, maintaining and inflating the bubble would cost $1 million annually.
“Without the full support of the museum’s board and the funding in place for the fabrication and a viable plan for the operation of the Bubble, we believe it is irresponsible to go forward,” Kurin said in the press release. “Architects, artists and Smithsonian staff have praised the bold vision of a temporary bubble-shaped structure on the Mall, but after four years of planning and fundraising, there was not enough funding to construct the Bubble and, more importantly, to sustain programming for years to come.”