Corcoran may collaborate with National Gallery and George Washington University

October 12, 2012

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is “in conversation about collaboration” with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University as part of its search for “sustainable options” to secure the future of the financially struggling museum and Corcoran College of Art and Design, gallery officials said Friday.

Harry Hopper III, chairman of the Corcoran board of trustees, and Fred Bollerer, Corcoran president, declined to specify the nature of the talks with either institution, but both men stressed repeatedly — and to a greater degree than in previous interviews since the spring — that one of their top goals is for the Corcoran to remain in its historic Beaux Arts home on 17th Street NW near the White House.

At the same time, they added, the option of selling the building and moving to a different location, perhaps in the suburbs, is not off the table.

Hopper and Bollerer met on Oct. 3 with National Gallery Director Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III and board of trustees President Victoria Sant to present “their thoughts and ideas,” National Gallery spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said. Further meetings are not currently scheduled, she said. The National Gallery recently has shown interest in the possibility of expanding into the Federal Trade Commission building.

The university and the college “have a long history of collaboration, and the two institutions continue to explore ways of deepening and extending that collaboration,” GWU spokeswoman Candace Smith said in an e-mailed statement.

Bollerer and Hopper said disclosure of the overtures is “premature,” but they felt compelled to respond to an avalanche of critical speculation about their leadership and plans for the Corcoran.

“There’s a lot of well-intended but inaccurate information that risks compromising these discussions and discussions like these which will help us achieve the goals . . . of preserving the legacy of the Corcoran, keep us in the building and have a sustainable college and a sustainable museum,” Hopper said.

Corcoran officials announced in June that they were thinking of selling and moving, because it would cost an estimated $130 million to renovate the landmark gallery built in 1897 in order to remain there. Millions more would have to be spent to develop expansion space elsewhere for the college, they said.

While they insisted that no decision to sell and move had been made, critics have charged that the Alexandria waterfront is a likely destination. A lawyer for the advocacy group Save the Corcoran this week released a letter arguing that such a move would violate the Corcoran’s charter.

“There is absolutely no done deal with anybody,” Hopper said. “There are no active discussions with Alexandria, for example. None. Any allegations to the contrary really hurt our ability to follow through and achieve the goals we want to achieve. . . . If someone says there’s a done deal with Alexandria, are [other potential partners] going to engage with us seriously if they believe those allegations?”

However, Hopper and Bollerer confirmed that Corcoran representatives have visited potential sites in Alexandria. They said they also have visited sites in Maryland and the District. And they have spoken directly with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

“It is in the best interest of the Corcoran to be able to pursue all options,” Hopper said, while sorting them according to the goals of securing the Corcoran’s future and staying in the building — if possible.

“We’ve been balancing the reality of the cost of staying in the building versus the desire to stay in the building,” Hopper said.

There is no timetable for announcing a definite course of action, Hopper said.

Meanwhile, the Corcoran has added about 450 new members in recent months, a 10 percent increase, director of communications Mimi Carter said.

David Montgomery joined The Washington Post in 1993. He currently writes general features and profiles for the Sunday Magazine, Sunday Style and Sunday Arts, with a focus on the Latino community and Latino arts.
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