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The Mall could look drastically different in a few decades. By Benjamin Freed
The Smithsonian's south Mall campus will apparently look like a Victorian horror story at night. Images courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough's term runs out in a month, but he's dropping at least one last major endeavor before he leaves with the release of a decade-spanning proposal to renovate several Smithsonian facilities along the south side of the National Mall, including a major overhaul of the vastly under-utilized castle.

The $2 billion project is designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, the Danish firm behind last summer's National Building Museum maze, and includes significant changes to the Freer Gallery, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Arts and Industries Building, which would finally reopen to the public after its 2004 shuttering. (The Smithsonian spent ten years and $55 million on renovating the building with the intention of opening it in September, but its rededication was snubbed earlier this year.)

The castle—which houses the Smithsonian's administrative offices—will undergo the most work, from restoring its Great Hall exhibition space to a two-level subterranean expansion that will contain a café, gift shop, restrooms, and underground passages to the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The quadrangle building under the Haupt Garden will get a new roof that lets in natural light to illuminate the Smithsonian's lower depths.

A new visitor center would be placed underground, but with natural light.

The Hirshhorn, which just underwent a makeover, will get a new courtyard anchored by an in-ground fountain and a reconfigured sculpture garden to make room for new, high-ceilinged galleries and a larger auditorium. The design also calls for lowing the concrete perimeter around the toric museum to better incorporate it with the rest of the Smithsonian campus and adjoining Mall.

"We believe this plan holds the potential to guide the Smithsonian South Mall campus into the future while remaining firmly rooted in its heritage," says Bjarke Ingels, the principal of his namesake architecture firm and the proposal's lead designer.

A new entrance to the Hirshhorn.

While the ambitious proposal contains several components for the Arts and Industries Building, it does not give the unused museum a long-term purpose. While the building would get expanded gardens and some traffic to its rotunda—from which visitors would be able to survey the surrounding campus—it will still be without a permanent function. The building is also still a candidate to house a proposed American Latino Museum.

The Smithsonian says the $2 billion plan will be paid for with a mix of public and private funds. Perhaps the largest component of the entire project is something that will go unseen by tourists—a new central utility plant the institution says will cut the south Mall campus's energy consumption by 34 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 39 percent.

Don't expect any changes that soon, though. Construction is not intended to start until 2021, and all the renovations will take between ten and 20 years to complete.

Posted at 02:31 PM/ET, 11/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The museum's collection will go to the National Gallery of Art, while the college will become part of George Washington University, effectively ending the 145-year-old Washington institution. By Benjamin Freed
The Corcoran Gallery. Photograph by Flicker user SBC9.

It’s official: The Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design will be dissolved in October after a District judge upheld the financially failed institution’s plan to be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.

In the ruling issued Monday afternoon, Judge Robert Okun of DC Superior Court rejected a last-minute case by Save the Corcoran, a group of Corcoran students, staff, and benefactors seeking to block the 145-year-old institution’s bureacratic death. Okun’s ruling allows the Corcoran’s cy-prés petition to move forward, meaning its 17,000-item collection will fall under the auspices of the NGA, while the art school is absorbed into GWU. The university will also take over the Corcoran’s building, an iconic Beaux Arts landmark from 1897 that needs as much as $130 million in repairs.

Because the Corcoran is a nonprofit organization, changes to its charter need to be approved by a judge. In his opinion, Okun seems sensitive to founder William Corcoran’s desire that the museum bearing his name remain “an institution in Washington City,” as Corcoran wrote in the original 1869 charter.

“[T]he Court is aware that the GW/NGA proposal is inconsistent with Mr. Corcoran’s intent in one important respect—unlike the UMD proposal from February 2014, the GW/NGA proposal effectively eliminates the Corcoran as an independent institution, leaving behind only an untethered Board of Trustees to advise GW and NGA on future plans for the College and Gallery,” Okun writes. “Undoubtedly, Mr. Corcoran would not be pleased by this turn of events. It seems likely, however, that he would be pleased to see that the College will be preserved through its partnership with the very university to which he donated both property and his company’s archives, and where he served as Chairman of the Board for several years, and that the Gallery will be preserved through its partnership with one of the country’s pre-eminent art institutions.”

The Corcoran has been struggling for years under its current management. Save the Corcoran argued in court that the museum’s board, led by Harry Hopper, raised just $4 million in 2012 and spent $3.7 million of it. The Corcoran also attempted to raise money by selling off some of its most prized items, such as the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet, a Persian rug that went for $33.8 million in a 2013 auction.

Under terms of the arrangements with the NGA and GWU announced in February, the museum will close around October 1. Students, now enrolled in GWU’s Columbian College, will continue to attend classes at the Corcoran building, though current students’ tuition will remain the same. While most of the current galleries will be closed to the public, parts of the building will eventually reopen with exhibits presented by the NGA under the banner “Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art” featuring small selections from the Corcoran’s vault.

Save the Corcoran, led by former instructor Jayme McLellan, has been brief so far in its obviously disappointment.

“The Corcoran as we know it is gone,” the group says on its Facebook page. “We fought the good fight.”

Closing out his ruling, Okun writes that his decision, while “painful” to issue, likely staved off complete disaster given the Corcoran’s unsteady leadership.

“[T]his Court would find it even more painful to deny the relief requested and allow the Corcoran to face its likely demise—the likely dissolution of the College, the closing of the Gallery, and the dispersal of the Gallery’s entire collection,” he writes. “Fortunately, two internationally recognized institutions, with strong and enduring commitments to education and the arts, have agreed to sustain the College under the Corcoran name, and to provide the same educational and employment opportunities to its students, faculty, and staff; to maintain the Gallery and much of the collection under the Corcoran name, and to keep it open to the public; and to renovate the iconic building which houses both the College and the Gallery.”

Read the full opinion below.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

237147270 Corcoran Ruling

Posted at 05:56 PM/ET, 08/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Silver Line and a new bus route will connect the Smithsonian's aircraft collection with the rest of the grid. By Benjamin Freed
The Space Shuttle Discovery is among the famous crafts stored at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. Photograph by Flickr user Joseph Gruber.

When the Silver Line starts running July 26, it’ll finally be relatively easy to get to one of the finest galleries in the Smithsonian’s vast collection. Along with the Silver Line, a new Fairfax County bus route will connect the Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center with the rest of the grid.

The new bus route will run between the Wiehle-Reston East station at the end of the Silver Line and the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly every 20 minutes, the Smithsonian says in a press release. The Smithsonian bills it as a long-overdue connection between the Air and Space Museum on the Mall and the Udvar-Hazy Center, which houses artifacts such as a Concorde supersonic jet, a Lockheed SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the space shuttle Discovery. (There’s also an Imax movie theater that shows first-run Hollywood fare in true Imax dimensions, unlike the somewhat phony “Imax experience” screens in DC multiplexes.)

Getting to the Udvar-Hazy Center from points closer won’t exactly become a quick trip, though. The bus ride between the Wiehle-Reston East station and the museum takes 42 minutes.

Posted at 02:57 PM/ET, 07/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
What a spineless move. By Benjamin Freed
Sorry, cuttlefish. Photograph courtesy National Zoo.

Invertebrate organisms represent an estimated 99 percent of all known living species, but after Saturday, they’ll be the centerpieces of 0 percent of exhibits at the National Zoo. The zoo says it is closing its long-running invertebrate exhibit permanently on Sunday in a move the Smithsonian says will save $1 million a year.

“This difficult decision is not a reflection of the importance of invertebrates or how we feel about them,” Dennis Kelly, the zoo’s director, says in a press release.

The decision to close the 27-year-old invertebrate display—which features spineless creatures such as cuttlefish, coral, anemones, Chesapeake blue crabs, spiny lobsters, giant clams, and butterflies—was made to spare the Smithsonian the estimated $5 million it would cost to upgrade the exhibit. (By contrast, the zoo spends $550,000 just on giant pandas, although pandas make for better merchandise than cuttlefish.)

The zoo says most of its resident invertebrates will either be moved to other exhibits or transferred to other zoos and aquariums, while a few specimens with short life spans will die off before the exhibit closes this weekend.

Posted at 01:29 PM/ET, 06/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
There are 31 newly born animals under the National Zoo's care, most of which are very cute. By Benjamin Freed
Not even two months old, this fishing cat already understands its power over the internet. Photographs courtesy of the National Zoo.

It appears many of the National Zoo’s animals have been busy recently. In a press release, the zoo says it has seen the birth of 31 new specimens between the main campus in Rock Creek Park and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.

Among the recent arrivals:

  • short-eared elephant shrew
  • fishing cat
  • leaf-tailed gecko
  • three loggerhead shrike chicks
  • scimitar-horned oryx
  • 24 black-footed ferrets
  • two red panda cubs
Red panda cubs, though not Rusty's. 

 

There was some initial excitement that the red panda cubs, born in Front Royal, were fathered by Rusty, the red panda who became an internet star last year when he escaped from the National Zoo and turned up the next morning in Adams Morgan. Not so, says National Zoo spokeswoman Devin Murphy. The cubs announced today were produced by a different set of adult red pandas. Rusty remains in Front Royal to mate with a female red panda. (They couldn't do it at the zoo because the hordes of tourists who visit to see giant panda cub Bao Bao are too distracting.) See more photos of the newborn animals below and on the zoo's Flickr page.

Elephant shrew.
Black-footed ferret kits.
A newly hatched leaf-tailed gecko.

Posted at 02:52 PM/ET, 06/12/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The 145-year-old cultural institution’s dismemberment plan is a done deal. By Benjamin Freed
The Corcoran is dead. Long live the Corcoran. Photograph by Flickr user Adam Fagen.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art as Washington knows it will end October 1, under an agreement the financially troubled institution finalized with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University on Thursday.

Under the agreement the museum’s collection will be given to the NGA, while the art school and the Corcoran’s iconic Beaux Arts building on 17th Street, Northwest, are absorbed into GWU. The terms were first announced in February, after the Corcoran’s board of trustees determined the 145-year-old cultural anchor could no longer support itself. The institution had been losing an average of $7 million a year on a $30 million budget, and faced a repair bill on its building estimated as much as $130 million.

“These agreements will ensure that the legacy of the Corcoran will be preserved in Washington and carried forward into the future,” Peggy Loar, the Corcoran’s interim director, says in a news release.

Taking possession of the Corcoran’s 17,000-piece collection, the NGA says it will accession a “significant portion” of the works into its own stock, though those items will be given a “Corcoran Collection” label when they are displayed. Any works the NGA does not incorporate will be distributed to other art museums. The NGA is also offering to take 20 members of the Corcoran’s curatorial staff.

The college’s fate is more complex. Current students and those admitted for fall 2014 will pay the Corcoran’s tuition rates, which are about $17,000 less than GWU’s, although the Corcoran will become a unit of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Corcoran students will continue to take classes at the Corcoran building.

The Corcoran College’s 25 full-time faculty members are guaranteed employment through the end of the 2014-15 academic year, but things are less clear for the school’s 180 adjunct instructors. Corcoran spokeswoman Mimi Carter described the adjuncts’ murky future as “TBD” in a phone call with Washingtonian.

A photojournalism adjunct says it was a "complete shock" when she found out about the finalized plan to cut up the Corcoran after the Washington Post tweeted the news and Loar sent an institution-wide e-mail shortly after 5 PM.

“The Corcoran I fell in love with has been dying slowly,” she says. “What the Corcoran has been for generations is now completely dead.”

Splitting itself between the NGA and GWU will cost the Corcoran about $48 million: $35 million will be transferred to GWU for renovations on the building, $8 million from the Corcoran College’s endowement will fund GWU's operation of the Corcoran school, and $5 million in the museum endowment will go to the NGA for upkeep on the collection.

Legally, the arrangement between the Corcoran, the NGA, and GWU needs to be approved by the DC Superior Court because it represents a substantial change to a non-profit entity’s chartered mission. The office of DC’s Attorney General will be present during the legal proceedings, and any Corcoran board member will have the chance to oppose the deal, but considering the board’s unanimous decision, the Corcoran’s fate appears to be decided.

The Corcoran has programming through October 1, but after that, it will shutter for renovations. When it reopens to the public, it will do so as a drastically different museum. Although admission will be free under the aegis of the NGA, exhibit space will be reduced to 15,000 square feet, less than half of what it is now.

Posted at 06:18 PM/ET, 05/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The dinosaur bones will be on display until October when they go to Canada. The assembled skeleton will return in 2019. By Benjamin Freed
A bronze replica of the Smithsonian's new T. rex skeleton stands in Montana. Photograph courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History.

The Smithsonian took possession Tuesday morning of 16 crates containing a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, an event 66 million years and one federal shutdown in the making.

The bones arrived in a FedEx truck after traveling more than 2,000 miles from Montana, where they were discovered in 1988 by rancher Kathy Wankel on federal land. The arrival of the fossilized beast in DC marks the first time the Smithsonian has possessed a T. rex this complete since its natural history museum opened in 1911. Only half a dozen comparable skeletons—this one is estimated to have 80 to 85 percent of its parts—have been unearthed before. The T. rex was supposed to get here last October, but last year’s federal shutdown forced the Smithsonian to delay the shipment.

Museum officials showed off body parts like the T. rex’s banana-sized teeth and arm bone, not much bigger than a human arm, lending credence to the image of a Tyrannosaur stomping around while weilding tiny arms. Visitors will get to the disassembled bones for the next six months as museum employees unpack, repair, and catalog them with several methods including 3-D imaging.

On October 15 (also known as National Fossil Day), they’ll be packed up and shipped out again: “The Nation’s T. rex,” as the Smithsonian calls the skeleton, is going to Canada for a while. The bones will be sent to a facility in Toronto where they’ll be mounted on the armature that will prop up the assembled skeleton when it goes on full display when the Smithsonian’s dinosaur hall re-opens in 2019 after a five-year, $48 million renovation beginning this month.

Posted at 11:49 AM/ET, 04/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
In an exclusive interview with Washingtonian, the Cornell University president talks about moving to Washington as he prepares to take over the Smithsonian. By Benjamin Freed

Skorton. Photograph courtesy Cornell University.

The Smithsonian announced on Monday that Cornell University President David Skorton will take over the sprawling national research institution next year, replacing retiring Secretary of the Smithsonian G. Wayne Clough. Skorton, a cardiologist by training, will be the first medical doctor to lead the Smithsonian. As a jazz musician—he once accompanied Billy Joel on flute on “She’s Always a Woman” on a Cornell stage—he is just as interested in the institution’s cultural functions as he is in its scientific missions. 

Skorton has been the president of Cornell since 2006, following a three-year stint as president of the University of Iowa, where he also taught for 26 years. In his first one-on-one interview since accepting his new job, Skorton tells Washingtonian about his impending move to the nation’s capital, his goals for exercising the Smithsonian’s cultural clout, and his favorite Smithsonian spots, though he hopes his future colleagues, the museum directors, don’t take it personally. 

One of the first things people here noticed is that you’re a sometime jazz musician who played with Billy Joel. The Smithsonian’s got a lot of venues, are you going to be able to get Billy Joel to play at one of them?

That’s hilarious. Billy Joel must have lost my cell-phone number. After our performance—which was really just me sitting in on one number—his people never called me to go on tour.  On the other hand, I learned that the Smithsonian has its own jazz orchestra.

Are you going to sit in with them?

Well, it wouldn’t be my decision, but if they asked me, I’d at least be there to cheer them on.

For most of your career you’ve been in Iowa City and Ithaca, New York. Are you looking forward to coming to a bigger city?

My wife and I split our time between Ithaca and New York City, though mostly in Ithaca. Cornell has a lot of footprints in Manhattan like the medical college. I’ve gotten a taste of the best of both worlds. A college town with that special culture and somewhat of a medium-size town feel on the one hand, and the attraction and joys of the city on the other.

I’ve also had the privilege of going to Washington many, many times, to Capitol Hill, to the National Institutes of Health, to the American College of Cardiology. I’ve seen from an inexpert perspective the Washington area change and evolve. It’s always been an exciting place to visit. It looks to me it’s an even more exciting place to live—exciting cultural scene, restaurant scene. For decades, I’ve been going to Blues Alley whenever I could spare the time, and now there are other music venues in other parts of the city.

Your name came to the Smithsonian from a head-hunting firm. What got you interested in the job?

Some attributes of the Smithsonian are quite similar to a research university. Both institutions have a lot of creative activity, whether its scientific research or things related to history or arts. Both institutions do education. At the university, it leads to a degree. At the Smithsonian, I’ve seen the literature describing it as “informal education.”

I’ve always been oriented toward public engagement. I worked in the public sector my whole career until the time I came to Cornell. The Smithonian is an enormous public interface. And thanks to Wayne Clough, and his colleagues, that interface has been hugely multiplied by the use of the Internet. As great as it is to be on the Mall, it’s also great to look at these artifacts, objects, and exhibitions online, and now with the 3-D project.

Is there any goal you have in mind for your leadership of the Smithsonian?

I’m just beginning the formal learning curve, but I do have two overarching ideas I’d like to share. I think most people not involved with the Smithsonian—and I put myself in that category right now—think about the museums and the galleries and the zoo and the website and the magazines as the Smithsonian, and tend not think about the people behind the scenes who are doing the research—the Tropical Research Institute, the Observatory Project, the curators and conservators who are behind the scenes. I hope to be able to shine a light on them, partly for recognition, and partly so they can express their own thought leadership, to use a cliche.

Broader than that, I hope the Smithsonian’s large presence in Washington will be translatable to a convening power. [I hope] the other cultural institutions in Washington can somehow come together as leaders and get the message across that the country needs to focus on a broad sweep of considerations, in education and in solving its thorniest problems.

You said you believe there’s too much of a focus on the STEM fields.

Of course you have to have an emphasis on math and science, and that’s been my whole career. But if you do that alone, without thinking about the detailed aspects of ethics and history and culture, things just don’t go as well as they might. And I think that’s true in a lot of endeavors. When we talk about winning the hearts and minds of people outside the United States, whether they are friends or people with whom we have challenging relationships, it’s understanding culture that makes the difference.

Is there a museum or exhibit you’re particularly drawn to, either as a tourist or scientist?

Over the decades, if I don’t have a lot of time, I’ve tended to go to the Sackler and Freer. I’ve had the privilege of working with colleagues in many parts of Asia over my higher-ed career and developed an interest in Asian art. 

Having said that, my very first exposure, when I was a kid, was to the Natural History Museum, and Air and Space is close to my heart in part because Cornell was one of the leaders of the Mars Rover project. I like all those places, but if you really push me, I’ll say my favorite is the Sackler-Freer. But maybe you don’t have to let the other directors know.

Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 03/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Corcoran called off its partnership with UMD moments before it went public with its arrangement with GWU and the National Gallery of Art. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Adam Fagen.

The University of Maryland it was still on track to enter a partnership with the Corcoran yesterday, until administrators got a call from the DC arts institution saying the engagement was off in favor of a plan to join up with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University instead, the school’s president, Wallace Loh, writes in an email to his faculty and staff.

In the email, obtained by Washingtonian, Loh writes that UMD officials met with the Corcoran as recently as two weeks ago to continue hammering out the details of an arrangement the two institutions. The sides met last December, with UMD proposing “shared decision-making and shared responsibilities” for managing the Corcoran’s gallery and art school and that it would front most of estimated $130 million to renovate the Corcoran’s Beaux Arts landmark building.

Loh also writes that since last summer, several of UMD’s academic deans consulted the Corcoran on a pro bono basis. But UMD’s involvement wasn’t entirely free-of-cost, he says, with the university hiring consultants and lawyers of its own for advice on how a potential merger would navigate federal, Maryland, and District law.

“Any due diligence on any potential project—whether it is eventually successful or not—costs money to perform: personnel salaries, external consultants’ fees, etc.,” Loh tells Washingtonian in an email. “These are the usual costs of doing business.”

But Loh says he found out abruptly. “It was a short phone call,” he writes. “They said they were going to ‘partner’ with NGA and GWU. I learned the details about this ‘partnership’ from reading the newspapers.”

According to the Corcoran’s new arrangement, which it aims to formalize by April, the 145-year-old institution will be largely dismantled, with the NGA taking over the 17,000-piece collection and GWU absorbing the art school and moving into the building, a small part of which will remain open to the public as an NGA modern art exhibit.

“We are, of course, disappointed that the Corcoran will be no more,” Loh writes in his faculty email. “In the end, not all courtships are destined to end in marriage.”

Read Loh's faculty email in full:

Dear faculty and staff:

As you know by now, the Corcoran (Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design) announced yesterday that its functions would be taken over, respectively, by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, should the parties reach agreement on the details.  According to the Washington Post, the 174-year old Corcoran will then cease to exist as an independent institution. 

In April 2013, I informed you that UMD would explore a partnership with the Corcoran on ways to preserve, and transform, the Gallery and the College as a single entity.  Our mutual goal was an artistic, educational, and scholarly collaboration among equals that would benefit the students and faculty of both institutions.  We would sponsor joint arts and culture programming for the Washington community and the state of Maryland.  With this partnership, UMD would also gain access to a landmark building, across from the White House, to magnify our presence in the nation's capital.

Over the summer, an 18-member task force of UMD faculty, staff, and administrators worked together with their Corcoran counterparts on how they could bring together art and science, technology and design, and education and scholarship, to spark innovation.

We met with directors of art museums from around the country, and with presidents of art colleges from around the world, to get their perspectives on how UMD-Corcoran might best thrive.  We retained consultants on art museums and professional art schools. We sought counsel on the complexities of Federal, Maryland, and District of Columbia law and how to structure the proposed partnership.

We talked with several universities in the U.S. and Europe that had successfully partnered with professional art schools.  The main lesson we learned was that it took at least one year -- often two or more years -- of conversations for these institutions to complete such a devilishly complex transaction, because it blends organizations of different scales and cultures.

We did comprehensive analyses of the budgets, management decisions, capital renovation needs, and fund-raising performance of the Corcoran.  We made multi-year projections -- with the input of Corcoran staff -- on what it would take to turn around the Corcoran's finances and operations.  We met with former supporters of the Corcoran, and potential new donors, to gauge their interest in re-engaging or engaging with the Corcoran if it partnered with UMD. 

We sought feedback from our stakeholders.  We met with senior elected officials, as well as community and business leaders, in Maryland and in Washington, D.C.; with faculty, staff, students, and University Senate leaders; and with alumni representatives and friends of UMD.  We garnered majority support for this joint venture with the Corcoran.

Since last summer, at the request of the Corcoran, some of our academic deans and professional staff have worked on a pro bono basis to assist and/or consult with their Corcoran counterparts on admissions, enrollment, registration, information technology, and marketing and communications.  

A special committee of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, as well as the USM Chancellor and his staff, oversaw and assisted in our due diligence.  We appreciate their engagement and support.

Throughout this process, we stayed in continuing communication with the Corcoran.  In December 2013, we formally proposed the following:

-- A true partnership (a "99-year marriage" of equals) with shared decision-making and shared responsibilities for co-management of the Gallery and the College under the continued auspices of the Corcoran trustees;

-- Immediate and substantial funding to erase Corcoran's persisting operating deficits;

-- Underwriting a substantial share of the cost of renovating the iconic Flagg building;

-- Joint fundraising to cover the balance of the renovation costs, with UMD providing the fundraising personnel and expertise that Corcoran currently lacks;

-- Professional and management expertise to help carry out needed administrative efficiencies at the Corcoran;

-- Future investments to grow the programming at the Corcoran, including hiring of a world-class museum director and a distinguished college president, each reporting to separate boards of the Corcoran. 

Two weeks ago, we had a cordial and productive discussion with Corcoran trustees on aspects of our proposal. We were awaiting Corcoran's written response when they called us yesterday, shortly before their announcement that the Gallery and the College would be taken over separately. 

We are, of course, disappointed that the Corcoran will be no more.  We understand that a partnership is harder than a takeover, involving mutual and ongoing obligations and risks as well as potential.  In the end, not all courtships are destined to end in marriage.  We wish NGA and GWU well as they keep alive the venerable name and legacy of the Corcoran.

To our UMD colleagues and friends, thank you for all your steadfast dedication, work, and support for this attempted partnership and for the excellence of our state's flagship university.

The University of Maryland continues on its upward trajectory as a front-rank research institution propelled by STEAM -- science, technology, engineering, ARTS, and mathematics.  We will continue to explore partnerships with arts organizations to further advance the eminence and impact of our arts and humanities programs. 

Sincerely,

Wallace D. Loh

President, University of Maryland

Posted at 05:09 PM/ET, 02/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The National Gallery will get the 145-year-old art museum’s collection, while GWU will take over the building and the art college. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Adam Fagen.

Nearly a century-and-a-half after it opened as Washington’s first private art museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its accompanying college are being parceled out to the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, as the Corcoran can no longer support itself as an independent organization.

The three institutions announced an agreement today in which the NGA will take over the Corcoran’s 17,000-piece collection while GWU will absorb the art and design school and take over the iconic Beaux Arts building on 17th St., Northwest. Although the Corcoran’s interim director, Peggy Loar, describes the transition in an announcement as “wonderful news,” it punctuates a financial decline for the long-struggling museum.

The Corcoran has been hemmoraging at least $7 million a year for several years on a budget of roughly $30 million. And its building, which opened in 1897, needs an estimated $130 million in repairs, although GWU President Steven Knapp tells the Washington Post he believes that assessment is high. The Corcoran had previously explored a partnership with the University of Maryland.

While the Corcoran’s students will remain in the building it and their school become parts of GWU, museum visitors will see even bigger changes. After it takes over the collection, the NGA will present modern art exhibits in the Corcoran building, but under the name “Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art.” It will also stage exhibits of older work from the Corcoran’s collection. Admission to the galleries will be free, but the museum experience seems destined to be pared down.

But other works from the Corcoran may wind up with the National Gallery. While they’d be labeled as coming from the private collection, the merger announced today hints that one of the Corcoran’s defining qualities—promoting local art like last year’s “Pump Me Up” showcase of DC’s 1980s subcultures—will fade.

“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,” Loar says in her announcement.

The deal needs to be approved by the boards of trustees of all three institutions by April 7. As for the entity known as Corcoran, it will continue as a non-profit organization that will advise the NGA and GWU on their new stewardship of the museum and college.

Posted at 05:35 PM/ET, 02/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()