A perfect storm of difficulties is forcing the 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington to seriously consider a partnership with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. Boards of the three institutions are set to vote on the arrangement in April.
The move is spurred by a shrinking endowment, mounting debt, unstable leadership, and the need for about $100 million to repair the Corcoran's historic Beaux-Arts building near the White House. The Corcoran's board has been exploring options, including talking to other institutions, for five years and the end result is not without controversy.
In the agreement, the Corcoran, which is the oldest privately supported museum in the U.S., will cede control of its renowned 17,000-artwork collection, with masterpieces by the likes of Albert Bierstadt and John Singer Sargent, to the National Gallery.
Corcoran College of Art + Design will continue operations under the auspices of George Washington University which would assume control of the landmark building, and all its expenses.
Modern and ocntemporary art exhibitions would be organized and presented by the federally funded National Gallery at the Corcoran along with a Corcoran Legacy Gallery which would show highlights from the Corcoran's collections. Artworks to be distributed from the Corcoran to the National Gallery, or other museums nationwide, have not been determined.
One of the few museums to charge admissions in Washington, the Corcoran has about 103,000 visitors per year. It has an endowment of just $18 million, but $44 millions in an acquisitions fund.
The Washington Post's Phillip Kennicott calls the demise of the Corcoran "cultural euthanasia" while Corcoran officials tout it as a great opening up of resources.
Peggy Loar, interim director and president of the Corcoran, wrote:
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.