Corcoran deal expands GWU’s footprint; U-Md.’s plan for partnership ends suddenly


File: The green room that displays most works of art from the William A. Clark Collection at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

George Washington University’s pending plan to take over the Corcoran College of Art and Design would expand the footprint of the largest university in the nation’s capital.

Details remain to be negotiated. But the structure of the deal, announced Wednesday, would make GWU the new owner of the Corcoran’s building on 17th Street NW, next to the White House. It also, according to GWU, would transfer to the university a Corcoran campus in Georgetown on 35th Street NW.

Under the deal, the National Gallery of Art would take initial responsibility for the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s collection and acquire a substantial portion of the artworks. The rest would be donated to museums elsewhere, with priority given to the District.

For GWU, the value of the real estate in the deal is significant, but the renovation expense will be, too. GWU plans a fundraising effort related to the acquisition.

The university, with more than 25,000 students, has expanded twice in recent decades beyond its main Foggy Bottom campus. In 1991, it opened a science and technology campus in Loudoun County through a gift of 50 acres from Charles E. Smith Construction Companies. The campus now encompasses 100 acres.

And in the late 1990s, it took over what was once known as Mount Vernon College in the Foxhall neighborhood of Northwest Washington. GWU assumed full control of that 25-acre campus in 1999.

Taking over the Corcoran’s college would expand GWU’s academic reach in art and design. But it probably also would add to the fundraising challenge for a university that is simultaneously seeking to raise its game in science and engineering.

GWU’s endowment stood at about $1.375 billion last year — the largest of any university in the District and the 55th largest in the nation. The private university was founded in 1821.

GWU’s reemergence in the Corcoran negotiations was something of a surprise. The university, by virtue of its proximity, was seen as a logical player in any deal with the financially struggling museum and school. But GWU seemed to cede that role last year to the University of Maryland at College Park, which announced a plan for a partnership with the Corcoran. For several months, U-Md. put significant effort into making the partnership a reality. But its plans were suddenly shelved this week.

“Not every courtship ends in marriage,” U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh told the Diamondback student newspaper. “We’re still committed to dramatically enhancing the arts and humanities.”

Much remains to be determined about GWU’s transition plans for the students and faculty at the Corcoran. The college has about 550 students.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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