The report, obtained by The Washington Post, comes little more than a week before a final recommendation on the project is to be made at a Hirshhorn board meeting May 23.
The Bubble had been set to open in 2012. Last summer it was postponed to later this year, and by fall it was pushed back to 2014. It was to be the signature project of Hirshhorn Director Richard Koshalek, who said in an interview last fall that the project would be an arts and culture think tank for Washington and a place “where cultural policy is set.”
“We’ve said from the beginning, and the secretary [G. Wayne Clough] has said it, this is a bold project,” said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for history, art and culture. “We’ve encouraged this, but it has to be raised by private money. In terms of doing that, we’re still trying to raise money for construction of the Inflatable Structure. We’ve been at this for some years. We hope its time has come now, but if not, we look forward to a better time.”
Kurin calls the draft report part of a “deliberative process” with board members and others tweaking it and making suggestions. It is a look at the annual operational costs, and “if we can’t put together the private funding to fabricate, it’s hard to conceive of operating the project,” particularly in a time of overarching austerity, he said.
The four-person team that produced the report, convened by Kurin in January, includes Smithsonian budgeting, programming and events specialists and the architect project manager, Christopher Lethbridge.
They were not asked to give the project a thumbs up or down, Lethbridge said. “We were asked to do some benchmarking and estimate what the cost of the programming would be, so that the board and the museum could set their fundraising goal accordingly.”
Lethbridge confirms the report is a draft but said “the numbers will not change in any way” between now and next week.
“We weren’t interested in providing evidence that would prove that the project couldn’t be done,” Lethbridge said. “I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for moving forward. If the board feels they can reach those fundraising targets, and I know the museum thinks they can, then the project will move forward.”