The first week on the job is nerve-racking for most people, but judging from her chipper demeanor, new Corcoran Director Christina Orr-Cahall wasn't the least bit flustered by hers. The 40-year-old Yale-trained art curator and educator, the first woman named to the post, started last Monday. By Friday? "It's been fun," she said. "I've spent the time interviewing all key staff, meeting board members and exploring every nook and cranny of the place."
Though it may be early to pinpoint -- she's still learning names -- Orr-Cahall said her first priority as chief executive of the Washington museum and art school will be improving staff morale and internal communications. The Corcoran has struggled in the past with high staff turnover.
"I've been figuring out what everybody's jobs are, and trying to find out where we need help," Orr-Cahall said. "We're short-staffed, like many museums, and I want to find out how to do the most effective job possible with what we have." She also has an eye on upcoming exhibits, like the New Yorker cartoon and cover show opening Saturday. "I think everything looks solid," she says.
The only negative? "I'm not used to the weather yet," says Orr-Cahall, who is coming from a post at California's Oakland Museum. "I keep running outside without my coat on because I'm so used to sunny California."
Hearts for Art
If you lined up all the schmaltzy, cheap and mass-printed valentines that get sent out every year, it would be enough to break any heart. A better bet might be the New Art Examiner's "Heartworks V" auction Friday night at the Stables Art Center's "Black Box," 410 Eighth St. NW. More than 200 valentines -- in the form of paintings, sculpture and jewelry -- have been created by local artists. For the $25 ticket, you get music and food too; call 639-8515 for information.
Magna Carta at Archives
Not many 700-year-olds can travel all around the country, be ogled by hundreds of thousands and still look no worse for wear. After traveling nationwide this year in honor of the bicentennial of the Constitution (a mere child at 200), the "Brudenell" Magna Carta, handwritten in Latin, is back in the National Archives with all the rest of democracy's hit parade of documents, including the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. This parchment Great Charter -- the foundation of fundamental rights -- is one of the 17 in existence, this one signed in 1297 by King Edward I. It has been lent indefinitely to the Archives by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot.
Who says the National Endowment for the Humanities is too staid and middle-of-the-road? Judging from some grants made in the area recently -- close to $300,000 for museum exhibitions for three local institutions -- someone over there has some esoteric tastes. To wit: the Octagon Museum gets $69,952 for a traveling exhibition on the work of early American architect Robert Mills; the Trust for Museum Exhibitions gets $175,000 for an exhibition "explaining the form, history and meaning of Byzantine icons and the continuation of post-Byzantine icon painting traditions on Crete through the 16th century"; and Partners for Livable Places gets $65,000 for a show on Basque whaling enterprises in 16th-century North America.
In the loopy-things-that-artists-do-to-be- recognized department, Bruce Bates gets top honors this month -- or any month, for that matter -- for his "spazmadance" at a curb on the District side of Chain Bridge. Knowing a captive rush hour audience when he sees one, Bates, draped in a black cape, is dancing in honor of his painting "Blue Mouse," which was painted in honor of his screenplay "Blue Mouse." Bates says he has not been able to sell the screenplay to Hollywood because "if your name isn't Fonda or Sheen or Douglas, you don't get anywhere." So he thought up the performance "as a gimmick to get public awareness." Bates promises to keep performing his "freeway art" there and at crosswalks over Rtes. 66, 495, 395 and the George Washington Parkway and even by K Street at lunchtime, until he "finds the right place at the right time."
Rolling Out the Carpets
The folks at the Textile Museum just won't quit until we stop walking all over carpets and start appreciating them. After mounting a huge show on Islamic rugs, the museum is presenting "Spain's Carpet Heritage" through October. The 22 carpets, woven between the 12th and 17th centuries, show Islamic and Moorish influences in their complicated designs and vivid colors. Remember to wipe your feet ... Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young will be the keynote speaker this week for the Library of Congress' observance of Black History Month. Young will discuss "The Constitutional Status of Afro-Americans into the 21st Century" at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson building ... and District Curators will launch its "Additions to Tradition" spring jazz and new-music series with the Butch Morris Trio on Saturday night at d.c. space.