Smithsonian will not reopen Arts and Industries Building after renovation


An exterior shot of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in construction. (Brendan McCabe, Smithsonian)
January 28

The Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, one of the oldest buildings on the Mall, will not reopen after a $55 million renovation, according to Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. The original home of the Smithsonian museums has been closed for renovations since 2004 but was scheduled to reopen this year after ongoing maintenance and renovation.

In an e-mail to staffers, Clough said, “the cost of rehabilitating the building for public use and operating it exceeded the available funding sources at this time. . . . The building will remain closed for the foreseeable future.”

Much of the maintenance on the 133-year-old building has been completed, including replacing the roof and the windows and installing an updated security system, according to a memo from Clough. An additional $4 million is needed to add climate controls to the building. The Smithsonian will need additional federal funds to complete renovations — an estimated $17 million — to prepare the building for the public. However, Clough said that the Smithsonian is prioritizing other maintenance projects in its budget request to Congress, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in late 2015.

Maintenance remains a concern for the Smithsonian Institution. In 2013, a facilities assessment concluded that the institution needs about $250 million each year to address facilities capital and maintenance requirements at its facilities, which include 19 museums and the National Zoo.

The future of the Arts and Industries Building has been uncertain for nearly a decade, since its closure in 2004. In 2006, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the building on its “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places” list. Last year, the Smithsonian announced a seven-year collaboration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to bring innovation-related programs to the building — a partnership that would have raised $7.5 million for the Smithsonian. That partnership has been canceled.

A bill in Congress names the building as the preferred site for the Smithsonian American Latino Museum, but the building, which has only 40,000 square feet of public space, would probably require additional underground renovations to become a museum.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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