Finally, as a free “Public Program Venue, ” a mix of public dialogues, art installations and performances, the project would lose roughly $960,000 and would affect current Hirshhorn programming, fundraising and staff.
Hirshhorn board members either did not return phone calls or messages, or declined to comment on the project assessment.
The report concludes by raising larger questions about whether Bubble programs could compete in the highly competitive “ideas market,” and the impact of the project’s fundraising on other Hirshhorn exhibits and programs. Last year the Hirshhorn had about 130,000 more visitors than the year before on the heels of hugely successful exhibitions by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Barbara Kruger and the multimedia Song I project by Doug Aitken.
The debate comes at a time when the Smithsonian and other federal institutions are operating under the congressionally mandated across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester. The $41 million in Smithsonian cuts have closed sections of the Hirshhorn’s third floor, housing some permanent exhibit items, until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Uncertainty about the Bubble has affected staff morale, according to the report. And it contextualizes the museum as “facing budgetary challenges, including the erosion of its trust accounts, declining federal appropriations, decreased board giving, and base fundraising results below historical levels.”
The Bubble idea “shows that art is alive on the Mall and that’s a great thing to show,” Kurin said. “All we’re doing is saying, how do we pay the bills to create that experience, and I think it’s a responsible thing to do.” Kurin calls the next week critical in terms of project funding. “Will we be biting off more than we can chew in a risky environment? I think we’re looking for board discussion to help answer that at this time.”
The report lays out serious challenges, Kurin said, but “we’ve had it in the past where somebody comes through and all of a sudden, it changes the game.”