Whoa – The Corcoran Gallery of Art to be Taken Over by GW University and the National Gallery of Art

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

From an email:

“Following the long period of investigation pursued by our Board, I have wonderful news to report. The Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art and Design, the National Gallery of Art, and the George Washington University (GW) today are announcing a proposed collaboration that would safeguard and increase access to the Corcoran’s iconic collection as a resource for the public in Washington, DC; maintain the historic Corcoran building as the renovated showplace for an important new program of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art; and strengthen and elevate the Corcoran College and its programs. The collaboration would raise the stature of arts education in the District and expand the benefits, services, and interdisciplinary opportunities that both the National Gallery of Art and GW provide to students, museum-goers, and the Washington community.

Our three institutions are now entering a working period to set the definitive terms of a collaboration, under which the Corcoran College of Art and Design would become a part of the George Washington University. GW would operate the College, maintain its distinct identity, and assume ownership of, and responsibility for, the Corcoran building. The National Gallery of Art would organize and present exhibitions of modern and contemporary art within the building under the name Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery would also maintain and program a Corcoran Legacy Gallery within the building, displaying a selection of works from the collection that are closely identified with the 17th Street landmark. These and other works of the Corcoran collection would become the responsibility of the National Gallery of Art. Works accessioned by the National Gallery would bear the credit line “Corcoran Collection.” For works not accessioned by the National Gallery, the Corcoran, in consultation with the National Gallery, will develop a distribution policy and program.

As you know, this proposed arrangement among three prominent Washington, DC, institutions comes as the culmination of a five-year effort by the Corcoran’s Board of Trustees to preserve the 17th Street building as both a museum space and a home for the College and to ensure the future of the Corcoran collection as a treasure accessible to all. Due to the challenges faced by the Corcoran, our Board has sought to achieve these goals by exploring collaborations with other cultural and educational institutions.

I want you to know that this coalition among our three institutions will open important new possibilities for Washington, DC. The Corcoran’s great cultural, educational, and civic resources, which are at the heart of this city, will not only remain in Washington but will become stronger, more exciting, and more widely accessible, in a way that stays centered on the Corcoran’s dedication to art and mission of encouraging American genius and opens the galleries to all for free. We are deeply grateful for the bold imagination of the boards of all three institutions for working to make this outcome possible.

Our partner institutions are as thrilled as we are

“All of us at the National Gallery of Art are excited at the prospect of working with the Corcoran and George Washington University in a unique collaboration that ensures the Corcoran legacy, keeps the core collection in the nation’s capital and offers great opportunities for exhibitions of contemporary art and programming,” said Earl A. Powell III, Director, National Gallery of Art.

“The George Washington University will work with the Corcoran to create a world-class arts education program in close affiliation with the National Gallery of Art. Such a program, situated in this iconic Washington landmark, will offer unparalleled opportunities for students and scholars, and provide a powerful new focus for the arts in the heart of the nation’s capital,” said GW President Steven Knapp.

The terms stipulate that the Corcoran would continue as a non-profit organization, committed to its original mission, “Dedicated to Art and Encouraging American Genius,” and continuing its 145-year history of pursuing and supporting new art and new ideas. The Corcoran would support the National Gallery of Art’s and GW’s stewardship of the Corcoran name and legacy, consult with and provide advice to the National Gallery and GW on programs and interconnected activities, and promote the important role of contemporary art and artists in provoking new thinking and realizing exciting new cultural initiatives.

Thank you so much for seeing this through with us. At this exceptional moment, we need your support and words of encouragement as never before. The Corcoran’s legacy is an incredible gift that will now stay in Washington, DC in perpetuity thanks to you and your unwavering support.

All best,
Peggy Loar
Interim Director and President
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Corcoran College of Art and Design”

24 Comment

  • Makes sense to me.

  • How soon will GWU sell the Corcoran College building to developers and then move it onto the underused Mt. Vernon Campus?
    I actually think that is a decent idea to create a needed endowment for the school, and develop a modern building for the school.

  • jim_ed

    This makes a ton of sense. GW gets to add a prestigious feather to its cap that also owns primo real estate, and the Corcoran gets the old money bankroll of GW.

  • So does the organization of the Corcoran essentially cease to exist, folded into NGA and GW?

    • pretty much.

    • Sounds like the Corcoran organization will continue and focus on contemporary art, having spun off the school and the collection. Might be an interesting partner to coordinate with the Institute for Contemporary Expression proposed for Franklin School.

      As for the building, the WaPo article has GW’s president saying “the university would not be renovating the building as a museum,” beyond the NGA-operated galleries on the second floor (Rotunda and beyond?). I take it that means they’re scooping up prime event/classroom space, which they can use better than any office or hotel developer, for the cost of repairs.

      It also opens up space for NGA’s modern art now that the East Building is closed through 2017.

  • one fewer local institution that actually interacts with the dc art community.


  • Something had to give. The Corocorn, IMHO, never seemed to make the most of its location; same goes for Saint Matthew’s Cathedral. Both places are downtown, but many have no idea where they are, even though they are “right there.” It’s as if they hide, in some way. That’s not good.

    • something about your way of describing that makes me uneasy. it denies that organizations should be whatever they want to be. it wasn’t the location that got the corcoran in trouble. it was mismanagement. that they “didnt make the most” of their location is irrelevant.

      • I diagree. It is part of the problem. They wanted more attendance, etc., but they did not do a good job letting people know they are there. You say musuems can be what they want to be: Did the Corcoran want to be an overshadowed art house, the world spinning by? If that was their goal, they achieved it, and it’s not wonder they had trouble. Rather, I thought their ho-humness was a symptom of their problems. “We don’t know who we are.” After they refused to show the Mapplethorpe photos all those years ago, it was downhill. Anyway, if you want to run a museum, you should not hide your light under a bushel. The Corcoran did not have to be dowdy and inert, but that’s what they projected.

    • I also felt that the Corcoran hardly had any art in it. I went a few times during their free Saturdays but I don’t think it would have been worth paying to see a few pieces of art that totaled what you’d see in a small downtown gallery or one gallery of a Smithsonian museum.

  • Probably the best possible outcome. The Corcoran has been mismanaged for decades. Its building will be a nice annex for the National Gallery and the collection will fill some gaps in their collection, esp. the early 20th century paintings and the photography collection. Much better than the silly plan for moving to Alexandria.

    • i think the board realized that wasn’t as preferable.

    • Post article today says that UMd had last met with the Corcoran two weeks ago and thought the deal was still on. Short story: UMd offered to help with fundraising, GW offered to do the fundraising. Big difference, especially when you’re losing $7M? every year.

  • Sad that much of the art may not stay in DC beyond what the Nat Gal folds into its own collections. Corcoran filled a niche that will be missed. It was nice to go there and not have to interact with the droves of tourists.

    • Yesterday’s article in the Post said that NGA would acquire a “large fraction” of the collection. The remaining works will be distributed to other institutions with a preference for those in the DC area. So it sounds as if most works will remain in DC.

  • Lots of good, talented, dedicated people who work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design might lose jobs as a result of this, so it is certainly not a universally happy ending. It may be the best way to preserve some good in a bad situation, but let’s hope it doesn’t cause the vibrant culture of a fantastic institution with awesome local color and committed teachers/artists/employees to wither away in the haze of rebuilding. That would be a damn shame.

  • I’m not so crazy about GW running things at the Corcoran as they’ve been known to make some pretty stupid decisions from time to time, but I will give them this: They have the one thing that the Corcoran desperately needs and hasn’t had enough of in a long time, which is boatloads of money.

  • I went to Corcoran for college. It sucked. I wound up leaving after a semester and a half of nonsense. When a circle of plastic bunnies from the dollar store or duct taping the hallway is considered a senior thesis, something’s gotta give.

    I STILL can’t figure out what either of those were trying to “represent.” Evidently, nor did the writers of the thesis, because their descriptions were practically illiterate.

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