Save the Corcoran director Jayme McLellan: ‘There’s a fear that history will be dismantled’

When Save the Corcoran formed in 2012, its aim was to keep the museum from selling its historic building. That ship has sailed, though, as the institution prepares to enter a partnership with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. The group, led by co-founder Jayme McLellan of Civilian Art Projects, has shifted its focus to what will come next for the Corcoran’s collection — and how they can preserve this piece of Washington history.

What is the best-case scenario, in the eyes of Save the
Corcoran?

McLellan: I think the best case scenario would be if all three of the partners could . . . embrace the community to create a thriving, healthy institution that remained a little bit independent. I could see them including a community gallery for the D.C. art community, hopefully keeping the D.C. part of the collection together, if they can’t keep the whole collection . . .

Another best case would be new leadership in place with guidance from the National Gallery and GW that keeps its independence in place. . . . We hope there’s more of a hybrid Corcoran created from these great thinkers at GW and the National Gallery.

What is the worst-case scenario?

The worst case scenario is kind of how things have been handled thus far. The community has been largely ignored. There’s a fear that history will be dismantled in the collection being picked apart — we don’t know what’s going to the National Gallery. . . . A terrible scenario would be if the collection was dismantled and scattered to the wind. Certainly the National Gallery can’t take all of it. In a perfect world, it would stay together as the time capsule it is. The worst case would be: GW and the National Gallery take it over, and it has no connection to Corcoran legacy other than the legacy gallery.

Once the partnership is settled, what is the future of Save the Corcoran?

One of the things we’re working on now [is] a coalition of about 25 D.C. arts organizations. We’re all working together to send a letter to the National Gallery and GW asking for the D.C. part of the collection to stay together, and to have a small space to represent the community. I could see Save the Corcoran morphing into . . . organizing exhibitions in concert with the National Gallery and GW.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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