Correction to This Article
The article, about the announced departure of the director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, misstated the museum's reason for auctioning off some artworks from its collection. It did so, according to Kristin Guiter, public relations director for the museum, to raise funds to acquire other artworks, not to reduce the gallery's budget deficit or to finance building repairs.

Corcoran director Paul Greenhalgh steps down after four years

Time for Change: Paul Greenhalgh said a recent illness makes
Time for Change: Paul Greenhalgh said a recent illness makes "one think about family and long-term life choices." (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Paul Greenhalgh, the director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art for the past four years, announced Wednesday that he will leave the city's oldest private art museum on June 1.

At a meeting with the gallery staff, Greenhalgh said he was returning to his native England to direct the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia.

In a letter he read to the staff, Greenhalgh said: "The artistic and intellectual environment of the institution, and the spirit of friendship found everywhere inside these beautiful walls, has few matches anywhere in the world. At this point in time, however, I have determined to change the emphasis in my life and work." In a telephone interview, Greenhalgh said he needed a "change in lifestyle," and one factor is his two-year battle with cancer.

"It is only natural that there is curiosity about my medical condition, and clearly it is a significant factor in my life at this time," he said. "I would say, however, that it is important to remember that I am in full remission and have been back at work at the Corcoran for well over a year now. If anything, these things make one think about family and long-term life choices."

Greenhalgh, 54, arrived at the Corcoran in spring 2006, hoping to consolidate the work of the art gallery and the city's only art college, and to steady the programs and financial lifelines of the museum. However, the Corcoran has had a rocky recent past, dealing with declining donations and mounting repairs to an old and historic building.

"We remain financially fragile," Greenhalgh said. Museum officials projected that the Corcoran will have a $4 million deficit in the fiscal year ending June 30. "The financial hardships of the Corcoran were not a mystery to me when I arrived. We have had a number of great successes. It is not a consistently bleak picture, and some major donors have returned."

Greenhalgh said the Corcoran, under his tenure, not only had to repair its physical plant but also relationships with Washington's donor and arts communities, which began to look at it as troubled rather than innovative.

"The Washington public is not the shyest in the world. One received advice from all over about what should happen," he said. "This place had to be systematically fixed. We had to think about the roof. The college numbers had been flat for a generation. So many galleries had been turned over to storage." The cost of needed repairs was estimated to be $40 million at one time.

By August, Greenhalgh said, all of the galleries will be reopened, the permanent collection reinstalled, a suite for contemporary art established and a new initiative, called NOW, created to showcase emerging contemporary artists.

To achieve those objectives, the Corcoran had to take some drastic measures, including staff dismissals, selling two schools it used for classes and auctioning some artworks from the collection.

Greenhalgh pointed to increased enrollments at the college's undergraduate and graduate programs as a way to improve the money flow. The numbers are up 17 percent in the past two years, according to the museum. "Our programs are interlacing. That is going to be the key to our economic future. We have a wider income stream than other organizations," he said.

Several recent shows illustrated how Greenhalgh tested the tastes of Washington audiences. He brought in a sprawling exhibition, "Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939," in 2007. It attracted 93,000 visitors, fewer than museum officials had hoped for. But other shows, such as two showcasing the photography of Annie Leibovitz and Ansel Adams, drew record audiences of a combined 156,834, reestablishing the Corcoran as a go-to place for photography.

An art scholar, Greenhalgh is a specialist in the decorative arts and artistic movements from 1850 to 1940 and served as president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 2001 to 2005. Previously, he was head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

While the museum searches for a permanent director, Fred Bollerer, the chief operating officer, will serve as director and chief executive officer. Greenhalgh is not severing all his ties to the Corcoran: He will become an adjunct curator of European fine and decorative arts in November.

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