The board members are seven months away from the scheduled conclusion of an exhaustive 2 1
2-year process to craft a new vision that they say will, at last, put the gallery and the Corcoran College of Art and Design in sustainable shape. Their zeal to reach a permanent solution has led them to contemplate selling the landmark building near the White House and moving to the suburbs — provoking outrage among many Corcoran lovers.
Museum consultants and board development experts contacted by The Washington Post say the Corcoran presents a classic case of a troubled arts organization trying to save itself by reexamining its purpose. However, they say, the Corcoran’s board seems to be playing an unusually large role in an effort that is typically led by an institution’s director. They also say leadership is taking too long to set a new course, while the Corcoran continues to drift, and the public remains disengaged.
“The cycle is six months to get the vision together, the strategy together, the key indicators of success,” said Robert Sullivan, former associate director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and now vice president of the Washington-based arts consulting firm Chora. “If anything takes more than six months, you’re spinning your wheels.
“Why hasn’t there been that leveraging of the urgency and embracing the community? It seems like there was almost a little sense of, ‘We’re embarrassed by this, so we’re going to go behind the walls and solve this ourselves.’ ”
Hopper acknowledged that the board is adopting an especially active role, and that the reform process has taken longer than is ideal. But he said the approach and timing have been driven by the Corcoran’s history of failed rescue attempts and the rapid turnover in leadership. There have been three directors in seven years, and now a search is on for another, to succeed director-president Fred Bollerer, who is retiring.
In 2005, then-chairman John T. “Til” Hazel cancelled an expansion designed by Frank Gehry after the board at the time and the Corcoran’s fundraisers fell far short of raising the $200 million cost. That showcase project was to have been a magnet for visitors, students, members and donors to recharge the Corcoran.
In 2010, Paul Greenhalgh, the eminent director hired to stabilize things after the Gehry debacle, resigned to focus on his health and to direct a university arts center in Great Britain. When he left, the relationship between the college and the gallery was still unsettled, and the problem of annual $7 million deficits was unsolved.