News & Politics

National Gallery of Art and George Washington University Complete Deal to Dissolve Corcoran

The 145-year-old cultural institution’s dismemberment plan is a done deal.

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.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.