At a recent National Press Club seminar, the new directors of the National Museum of African Art, Corcoran, National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery gave clues to their plans. The African's Sylvia H. Williams said she will deal with African objects "as art . . . This is not to imply I am not concerned with the social context. I am." But differences in quality must be recognized and all the objects "will meet the test of artistic merit." The Corcoran's Michael Botwinick said the city's largest private art museum will be "a free spirit in this community . . . quicker, less bureaucratic, less structured" than federally funded museums. To raise funds, "We'll have to send roots deeper into the community and find that mythical corporate support." The Corcoran will expand into the triangular piece of land it owns along New York Avenue, and the $15 million needed to do this "will be a rallying point for raising funds for the next four or five years." Charles C. Eldredge of the Museum of American Art said he will emphasize retrieving "holdings which have languished in storage for years" and shipping them for display around the country. This is necessary, he said, because Americans are "visually illiterate."
Alan Fern of the National Portrait Gallery said his first goal is to display portraits of great Americans, and then hope the portraits will be esthetically first-rate. He said he needs more space, and covets the nearby International Trade Commission building at 701 E St. NW. Eldredge, whose museum shares a building with Fern's, said he'd like a chunk of the trade building, too, and the pair agreed publicly that if they could get it they might split it. There was a good deal of talk about local artists and the responsibility of museums toward them. Williams said she won't exhibit local artists but that exhibiting great African art "might give a creative spark to genius that's here locally."
Botwinick said the Corcoran is criticized for not giving enough space to local artists, but the real problem is that, eventually, Washington artists "all have to make the break and go to New York because nobody in Washington is buying art."