Fred Bollerer, president and director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, opened a wide-ranging community “listening session” Thursday night by focusing on what he called two core truths:
“We all care about the Corcoran,” he said, and “this summer is our defining moment.”
It was Bollerer’s way of setting expectations for an audience primed to argue the merits of having the historic institution remain at its current location — the Beaux-Arts building on 17th Street NW, where more than 100 artists, students, faculty and Corcoran officials gathered to make their cases for the future of the institution.
Bollerer said that he’d been moved by the intensity of feeling expressed over the past week and reiterated that there had been no firm decision about selling the building or relocating the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design.
“We don’t know the value of the building,” Bollerer said. “That’s why the trustees have instructed me to ascertain that by hiring brokers.”
Corcoran officials then went through a slide-show presentation of top questions they had received since voting unanimously June 4 to consider selling the landmark building and moving to elsewhere in the area.
All options, including merging, selling and retrofitting the building, are still in play, said Kathryn L. Gleason, one of several trustees in the audience. “It’s very much still in process, and facts are still being gathered.” Those facts would include possible financial incentives other locales might be willing to consider.
Audience members had questions about the accuracy of the reported $130 million figure to modernize the Corcoran building; how much was spent on consultants; whether there had been adequate alumni outreach; and even whether the trustees had the authority to make the decision to move.
One audience member expressed support for relocating. “Hey, guys, we are broke,” she said. “Sell this building — this is not the Corcoran. You are the Corcoran, the staff, the art.”
But some in the overflow crowd wore yellow T-shirts that read: “Stay Sane and Don’t Sell.” One student, a senior in fine art photography, made an impassioned plea for not relocating, urging school officials to take fuller advantage of the Corcoran’s creative brain trust to come up with alternatives. “We’re used to problem-solving.”
When Donna Ari, a former curator of education at the Corcoran, began talking about the institution’s overarching mission, the room erupted in sustained applause. “I feel like something’s missing out of the heart of this conversation,” she said.
Ari — who called the Corcoran a national institution with a world-class collection and part of the fabric of the city — challenged officials to make the debate more nationally resonant. “You must frame the vision, and the money will come,” she said.
As the meeting approached two hours, several in the audience wondered how they could help. “Until a sufficient number of the right people know something is broken, it’s difficult to fix it,” Bollerer said. “The greatest way we can save this facility is, you have to get involved. But we cannot ignore the financial exigencies.”