Sitting just a stone’s throw away from the White House, there’s nowhere more central in Washington, D.C., than the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s current address. So why move?
Like the Barnes Foundation, the Corcoran, is considering a change in setting due to financial hardship. Unlike the Barnes Foundation, which relocated from Marion, Pa., to downtown Philly, the Corcoran is considering trading up its central city space for a more suburban setting—possibly moving out of the city entirely.
The museums are moving in opposite directions, but the Washington Examiner’s Liz Farmer explains one way in which the Barnes and Corcoran decisions are in step: Both sparked immediate outcry, and both institutions then took steps to pacify angry fans.
As a private institution, the gallery is not obliged to hold community meetings for input -- but it does make for good public relations. Just 140 miles north in Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation learned that the hard way when it was sued by museum members and supporters after plans to relocate were made public.
Tonight, the Corcoran will hold a public forum where community members can comment on the proposal to sell the building and relocate the museum. It will be the first of several meetings in which museum director and president Fred Bollerer will speak to the public about the institution’s future.
It may be too little, too late. In a scathing takedown of the Corcoran’s management following the news that the Corcoran’s board would vote on seeking a valuation for its Beaux-Arts building, The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott boils the museum’s problems down to faulty leadership. Starting with the out-of-touch director, Kennicott says that “old Auntie Corcoran” is too far removed from the community, and from local and national museum culture. Just a few years ago, the management—which has since turned over—wanted to commission Frank Gehry, FAIA, to build a large addition. And now it wants to sell to cut the museums mounting deficit.
Museum leaders say that the problem lies with the building. The structure’s 1870 indenture and historic status exempt it from certain building codes–but if the Corcoran chooses to alter the structure, it will be costly.
“Our College is thriving, despite space limitations, and is poised for the growth that an outstanding school deserves,” he said. But money to expand is limited since the museum receives no federal funding and “our needs are made especially challenging by the high operating costs of a building that is beautiful but antiquated,” he said.
Albert Barnes’s indenture sought to prevent changes to his cherished collection, but ultimately, the city trumped his wishes. The Corcoran Gallery of Art is not tied to 500 Seventeenth Street N.W., except in the eyes of many students, alumni, and visitors. But buyer beware: Any features, such as preservation restrictions and White House security issues, that the Corcoran has with its building, a new buyer will inherit.
Tonight’s meeting will take place at the Corcoran, starting at 6:30p.m.