THOUGH UNORTHODOX, the unabashedly public bid by Wayne Reynolds to take over leadership of the troubled Corcoran Gallery of Art cannot and should not be dismissed. The philanthropist has credentials and resources in getting struggling institutions to thrive — as evidenced by his work in turning around Ford’s Theatre. More importantly, he has articulated a much-needed vision for the Corcoran that would bring it into the 21st century while still staying true to the 19th-century charge of its founder.
The Corcoran’s troubles — a dwindling endowment, budget deficits, declining membership, dubious decision making — have been well chronicled. The current board so far has not been able to produce a sustainable model for the art gallery and the college of art and design, instead resorting to endless studies and a series of band-aid fixes. At one point, it even thought of selling its landmark building near the White House.
Enter Mr. Reynolds who, as The Post’s David Montgomery disclosed, is angling to be appointed to the board as its chairman. His idea is to transform the Corcoran by establishing a creative center dedicated to art and arts education. Just as he helped Ford’s Theatre by reshaping its mission to include a learning center dedicated to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, so he promises to bring new vigor to the Corcoran with an expanded college that would be an incubator for new media, design technology and modern art forms.
The proposal is not without controversial features, notably plans to de-emphasize the gallery and sell a portion of the collection to create an endowment; further scrutiny is needed. But it’s significant that Save the Corcoran, a grass roots non-profit that sprang up to successfully oppose the Corcoran’s relocation, has endorsed Mr. Reynolds, along with some faculty and students. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said change is needed on the board and Mr. Reynolds, with his extensive connections in political, entertainment and financial circles, would be a good addition.
Unfortunately, at the moment his chances don’t look good. Clearly furious that Mr. Reynolds broke protocol in waging his public campaign, Corcoran officials also say there are problems with his approach. Harry Hopper, the chairman Mr. Reynolds seeks to replace, told us there are really no new ideas advanced by Mr. Reynolds and that reshaping an institution is a complicated process that requires more than “a high level fly-by.” He said the board is engaged in a deliberations with credible parties who have proven track records of success in visual art and education art. He would not discuss specifics, nor would he say when an announcement about coming plans might be forthcoming. The March board meeting has been cancelled.
Mr. Reynolds went public because he felt a sense of urgency about the state of the Corcoran and he wanted to engage the community in the debate about its future. That shouldn’t threaten the board but rather spur it to give Mr. Reynolds’ ideas the consideration they are due.
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