“I feel like they’re forcing my hand” to go public “before they do something stupid” without him, Reynolds said in an interview. “I think it’s the greatest philanthropic opportunity in town for the next 20 years. It’s shameful what’s happened there.”
In broad strokes, Reynolds proposes what he calls the Corcoran Center for Creativity. He would expand the Corcoran College of Art and Design, adding a stronger focus on technology and new media, along with the traditional arts disciplines. He would de-emphasize the gallery, arguing that it can’t compete with the free, federally funded galleries in town.
Most controversially, he proposes selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art that rarely, if ever, gets displayed and is not central to founder William Corcoran’s original charge in 1869 for the institution to encourage “American genius.” The money would establish a huge endowment for the first time in the Corcoran’s history. But such a move would flout a strong taboo in the museum world against selling art for any purpose other than acquiring more art. The Corcoran would risk a reprimand from a leading trade organization, the Association of Art Museum Directors.
“I say, let’s be the greatest in the world at something,” Reynolds said. “We can’t be the greatest art museum and the greatest school; we don’t have the assets anymore. . . . If we could create a center that was the nexus of technology innovation, the arts and creativity, and create a paradigm that’s never been done before, it would be a home run not only for the community but also the nation.”
The Corcoran, which last year controversially considered selling its historic building near the White House to help balance its budget, is nearing the conclusion of an almost year-long process to reinvent itself and forge a sustainable future. It has explored collaborations with a number of potential institutional and philanthropic partners, and has said it would announce a plan in coming weeks.
Reynolds, too, was invited to present his vision to a committee of Corcoran trustees in January, but said he has heard almost nothing since.
“The Corcoran finds it unfortunate that Mr. Reynolds is attempting to circumvent what we consider the normal governance process,” said Mimi Carter, the Corcoran’s vice president for marketing and communications. “He’s doing this by attempting to nominate himself to the board through this public lobbying effort, in a manner that no nonprofit anywhere is going to allow to happen.”