March 13, 2013

The Corcoran’s outside voice” [editorial, March 10] lent credence to Wayne Reynolds’s effort to become chairman of the Corcoran Gallery and Corcoran College of Art and Design, a position he previously held at Ford’s Theatre.

The Corcoran is a much more complicated institution than Ford’s Theatre, as it includes both an accredited museum and an accredited college. Mr. Reynolds has not made clear whether his plan to sell artworks from the collection would be carried out in accordance with the standards and best practices of the museum field and in compliance with the museum’s accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Detroit Institute of Arts offers a good example of what is required to save a major art museum and its collection. There were no quick fixes for the Detroit museum, as there will not be for the Corcoran, now far along in its plan to achieve sustainability. The Detroit museum cut costs while finding new ways to engage its community. Similar steps have been taken at the Corcoran. The process in Detroit led to the approval of a referendum in three counties, where voters agreed to tax themselves to provide $23 million annually for the next 10 years.

While the Detroit financial lesson is not applicable to the Corcoran, the words of the Detroit Institute of Art’s director, Graham Beal, are relevant. Despite the potential of closing that museum, Mr. Beal made clear that the museum existed to care for its collections, not vice versa. The museum is on a path to sustainability, and not a single work of art was sold.

The Corcoran board and staff should be allowed to finish the work of leading that great Washington institution to a sustainable model and a successful future.

Ford W. Bell, Washington

The writer is president of the American Alliance of Museums.