The Corcoran Might Sell Its Building

We suggest three alternative locations for the Washington institution.

By: Harry Jaffe

News broke yesterday that the Corcoran Galley of Art is pondering the sale of its iconic building around the corner from the White House. I stress the word “pondering.”

“There’s been no decision to sell the building,” says a staffer with knowledge of the board’s thinking.

Few in Washington, DC’s art community were surprised. The Corcoran has been losing money for years. It is the only major museum on the Mall that’s privately owned. You can walk into the National Gallery of Art for free. The Corcoran must charge admission and raise massive amounts of money.

But the Corcoran has something DC’s federally supported art institutions lack: the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the best art school in the region. The Corcoran also has deep roots into the local community: strong ties to the DC Public Schools, and strong associations with THEARC, an art and performance space in Anacostia; Sitar Arts Center in Adams Morgan; and the Fillmore Arts Center north of Georgetown.

While the Corcoran ponders its fate and surveys the region for a potential new home, business and political leaders in DC should do all they can to keep the institution in the nation’s capital. Corcoran president Fred Bollerer says he plans to meet with DC mayor Vince Gray, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and Virginia governor Robert McDonnell.

It’s time for DC leaders to squelch any chance that the Corcoran could leave town. It’s too tied to our history, too entrenched in the community, too special in its combination of a great art collection and a strong art college.

If the Corcoran decides to sell its Beaux Arts building on 17th Street across from the Mall, here are three places it could land:

Walter Reed: The federal government has closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center and moved its facilities to Bethesda. The District now has control over vast parcels among the 113-acre campus along Georgia Avenue. It’s six miles north of the White House but close enough to draw visitors—and students.

Florida Avenue Market: Developers are beginning to renovate and repurpose buildings on the 45-acre site near the crossroads of New York and Florida avenues, east of Union Station. Gallaudet University, the nation’s only college for the hearing-impaired, hugs the market’s eastern border. Could be a good mix of colleges in a growing section of town, and it’s not far from Capitol Hill.

Old Town Anacostia: The historic downtown is still a development frontier, though property along the east side of the Anacostia is going fast. It’s easily accessible by Metro and has the possibility of housing a complex with great views of the river.

“If the Corcoran is going to stay in DC,” says a staffer close to the process, “it will need help, from the city government and the private sector. Who’s willing?”

Good question, and one that needs an answer.