Even as some cultural organizations turned the page this year, opening new buildings (the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery, for example) or shifting strategies (Asia Society plans to build a contemporary art collection), others are in transition. Having backed out of an expansion of its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue in 2006, the Whitney Museum of American Art says it is close to releasing a design by Renzo Piano for a new downtown site at the entrance to the High Line, the abandoned West Side elevated railway that is to become a park. But the museum's financial ability to sustain both sites is an open question.
The Dia Foundation, which shelved plans to move to the very same downtown site in 2006, is also hoping to recast its Manhattan identity. For now, its sprawling former factory in Beacon, N.Y., remains its anchor; Dia has been without a Manhattan bulwark since it shuttered its old four-story building on West 22nd Street in Chelsea in 2004. After losing both its longtime director and chief benefactor last year, Dia is seeking a new Manhattan home under the leadership of Jeffrey Weiss, formerly a curator at the National Gallery of Art.
The Smithsonian Institution has been under tough Congressional scrutiny since its top official resigned last spring in a scandal related to his personal expenditures. Even as it plans a National Museum of African American History and Culture, expected to cost about $400 million, it faces a shortfall, and many of its component museums are in a dire state of disrepair.
Here are a few of the wrinkles facing each institution as they try to map out a strategy in 2008.
A DOWNTOWN WHITNEY? Many in the art world were floored by the Whitney's decision in 2006 to shelve a $200 million expansion of its Madison Avenue home by Mr. Piano. The museum had fought long and hard for public approval, and Mr. Piano had repeatedly revised the design to allay objections by neighborhood residents.
All of this leaves the Whitney at the start of a building process that it had desperately hoped to have finished by now. What is more, the new location carries considerable risk. Will the museum find an audience in the meatpacking district? Will the adjacent High Line neighborhood develop the way the museum hopes? How will the existence of two comparably important sites affect the Whitney's identity and attendance figures?
Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney's director, said the new site would enable the museum to plan sweeping exhibitions, show large-scale works and arrange outdoor installations. "Now we're able to fit everything in that we want to," he said, adding that with the discarded Piano plan, "we were having to make judicious cuts."
The project is expected to cost about $200 million, although Mr. Weinberg said it could be a "bit higher." Fund-raising is in the "quiet phase," he added, and while the city is expected to make a significant contribution, it has yet to set a figure.
(The Whitney's tiny Altria branch, at 120 Park Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal, is expected to close sometime in 2008 because the Altria Group is phasing out its arts financing.)
Rumors have circulated that the Whitney might consider selling its 1966 building by Breuer, but Mr. Weinberg dismissed the idea. "That's not going to happen, because we love it," he said.
DIA CASTS ABOUT In a step that might be construed as progress, the Dia Foundation recently sold its remaining Chelsea exhibition space, which it shut in 2004, for about $38 million. Some money might go toward a new Manhattan location. Dia is so far limiting its search to existing buildings. "We're looking to ideally reclaim a disused historic space, which is true to the history of Dia and sites it has occupied since the 1970s," Mr. Weiss said. (Its Beacon site is a former Nabisco factory.)
The city urged the foundation to consider Governors Island, now envisaged as a budding cultural destination. But Dia officials said the site would only allow for buildings that were too small in scale. "It's hard to envision how that's going to evolve," Laura Raicovich, Dia's deputy director, said of the island's future.
Ideally the Dia wants a space that is 50,000 to 75,000 square feet. "We're pounding the pavement," Ms. Raicovich said. "It could be an old courthouse, it could be a former bathhouse."
Long known for sponsoring contemporary art projects across the country, Dia began presenting commissions and projects at the Hispanic Society of America in Washington Heights this fall.
Meanwhile the organization is adjusting to Mr. Weiss and Nathalie de Gunzburg, who became chairwoman in May. She succeeded Leonard Riggio, who abruptly resigned in 2006 upon learning that the institution's charismatic longtime director, Michael Govan, had taken the top job at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Mr. Riggio had financed most of Dia's Beacon space. While Mr. Riggio's donor shoes will be difficult to fill, Ms. Raicovich said, "there is a lot of enthusiasm on the board" for the Manhattan project.
SMITHSONIAN BLUES Congress, which finances 75 percent of the Smithsonian's $1 billion annual budget, has been pressuring the institution to get its house in order. In particular Congress wants it to stop relying on the federal government to repair its crumbling infrastructure and start raising money privately. In a Senate committee hearing this month Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, proposed a pilot matching program: Congress would appropriate $15 million in federal money once the Smithsonian raised $30 million on its own.
The main message was that the Smithsonian will have to start operating as other major museums do. A major step will be finding the right candidate to succeed Lawrence M. Small, who resigned as the Smithsonian secretary under pressure in March. The Smithsonian's Board of Regents is considering candidates who would be adept at competing for donors.
Institution-wide fund-raising is foreign to the Smithsonian's DNA, given that the organization's 19 museums have historically raised money separately for programs. Even if Senator Feinstein's match proposal comes through, the Smithsonian faces an enormous fund-raising burden. After last spring's money scandal, Congress does not plan to let up on the pressure. "We owe it to the Smithsonian to use every available resource at our disposal to clean up this mess," Ms. Feinstein said at this month's hearing.
By Robin Pogrebin
For The New York Times