The art world in D.C. has had its eyes focused closely on the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design for quite some time now. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the city’s oldest art gallery and its college were considering selling the historic Beaux Arts building on 17th Street across from the White House. Rumors began that they were looking to relocate outside of the city, to the Virginia or Maryland suburbs. Since then, art critics and fans, historians and students have stepped up to ask: why?
The sale announcement doesn’t exactly come as a surprise to those with close ties in the local arts community; the Corcoran has had a troubled financial past. Many attribute this to mismanagement on the part of the Board of Trustees. In 2005, plans to have Frank Gehry build an addition to the museum were scrapped due to insufficient funds. In 2011, the Corcoran hired Lord Cultural Resources, a Toronto-based strategy firm to come up with solutions to its growing debt. Now the Corcoran is in a $7.2 million deficit, despite selling part of its downtown property to Carr Properties for $20.5 million. It is estimated that it would cost $130 million to bring the building up to “modern museum standards,” according to a statement released by the Corcoran. A breakdown of each year of the Corcoran’s snowballing debt can be seen here. Now, the sale of the building appears to be the most likely outcome.
Since the announcement in early summer, many people have come forward to challenge the decision, ask questions and seek alternatives. They are upset for several reasons. Many members of the art community feel like this decision came out of nowhere and are upset with the lack of discussion before this announcement. Many want transparency and communication from the Board. Others, such as Corcoran employees and students, are understandably upset simply because they have a personal connection with the museum.
An organization called Save The Corcoran popped up shortly after the public learned about the sale. According to their website, the purpose of Save The Corcoran is to “collaborate with Corcoran leadership and the Corcoran community to determine a solution that will address the needs of the Gallery and College, while maintaining its historic home and identity”.
Disclosure: This author is a student at The Corcoran College of Art and Design.