Ownership of the Corcoran Gallery and the Corcoran College of Art and Design changed hands to the National Gallery of Art and The George Washington University, respectively, on Feb. 19.
The gallery currently serves as the largest privately supported cultural institution in Washington, D.C., and it is renowned for its wide collection of contemporary American art. Since the administrative change, the gallery was renamed Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art. While the National Gallery oversees the gallery collection, GWU oversees the college of art and design and the operational responsibilities of the gallery.
Corcoran Gallery Vice President of Marketing and Communications Mimi Carter explained that the new collaboration provided a sustainable solution for the future of both the gallery and the college.
“The Corcoran College and Art of Design needed a financially sustainable solution for the gallery and the college,” Carter said. “Partnering with GWU and NGA helped us to preserve the Corcoran collection, keep the iconic building as a gallery and a showcase for contemporary art and simultaneously enabled us to maintain the connection between the college and the gallery.”
Carter added that the board of trustees thought the decision was the best option that would both safeguard and increase access to the gallery’s collection while maintaining deep roots in the community. Since its creation in 1874, the gallery has provided numerous services as a cultural, educational and civic resource, such as art outreach programs, community service partnerships and exhibitions highlighting local District artists.
Georgetown Director for the Art and Museum Studies Program Alison Hilton agreed that the administrative change was the best immediate solution.
“I hope with the change with this new and interesting balance of administration will yield some creative long term solutions,” Hilton said. “I should also say that the Corcoran is not only a museum but also an art school, and it’s the only thing of its kind. So in some ways, it makes sense to try this different kind of solution.”
Hilton stressed the importance of the art collection’s accessibility, particularly in light of founder William Corcoran’s reasoning behind a joint art school-museum entity.
“Studio art students go to the gallery very often to be in touch with contemporary art. For art history, we use the collection for studies and research and enjoyment,” Hilton said. “I hope the museum part will be even more accessible for the undergrads coming along. It will be a big benefit to students who aren’t necessarily majors but who care about the art.”
In addition to exhibition accessibility, Hilton added that professors themselves take art and art history classes at Corcoran College.
“We do this. We always use the museum,” Hilton said. “For art history students, it’s great. Same goes for American Studies students and the other major students who have an interest in art.”
As the gallery transitions from a private entity to a public one, Hilton said the museum’s operations may change depending on GWU’s administrative decisions.
“The study of art history in universities and the study of art in museums are much more integrated than in the past,” Hilton said. “This collaboration between GWU and the National Gallery of Art could be an ideal way to demonstrate that integration.