The latest developments and progress regarding Save The Corcoran's efforts.

Save The Corcoran Legal Team Delivers Results of Investigation to Corcoran Leadership

Investigation Uncovers Malfeasance, Representatives Demand
New Voices to Fill Board Vacancies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the legal firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP delivered a letter to Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design officials, citing leadership failures including potential charter violations, corporate waste, potential conflicts of interest and fundraising collapse. The letter, asking that Corcoran leadership fill three current vacancies on the Corcoran Board of Trustees with representatives selected by the Save the Corcoran Coalition Advisory Committee, was delivered to Board Chairman Harry Hopper, President and Director Fred Bollerer, and Chief Operating Officer Lauren Garcia, on behalf of the Save the Corcoran Coalition (enclosed).

The conclusion of the factual and legal investigation, as detailed in the letter, demand two actions:

 

  1. The Corcoran will end all corporate waste associated with an unlawful move outside of Washington, D.C., and publicly announce that the Corcoran will not move outside of the District;
  2. The Corcoran will fill the three current vacancies on its Board of Trustees with nominees selected from the Save the Corcoran Coalition’s Advisory Committee (response requested by October 19).

 

ABOUT SAVE THE CORCORAN

Save the Corcoran is a non-profit organization comprised of a broad community of Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design Trustees, donors, artists, students, faculty, alumni and supporters, united to oppose the sale of its 1897 Ernest Flagg Beaux-Art Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located in the heart of downtown DC. Proposing a more open and transparent dialogue about the future of the institution, the purpose of the coalition is to collaborate with Corcoran leadership and the Corcoran community to determine a solution that will address the needs of the Gallery and College, while maintaining its historic home and identity. For more information and/or to get involved, visit www.SaveTheCorcoran.org.

Save the Corcoran / P.O. Box 26204 Washington, DC 20001


PDF Lettertotheboard 10-09-2012

 

Community Newsletter

Dear Save the Corcoran Supporters,

As you may be aware, this has been an incredibly important week for our efforts.

On Tuesday, we were pleased to learn that the D.C. Preservation Society had filed paperwork to amend the Corcoran Gallery of Arts’ historic landmark status to include the building’s interior. As reported by the Washington Post, the Associated Press, Arts Journal, ArtInfo and others, this move would immediately prevent construction in any historic areas of the Corcoran’s interior.

This measure does not necessarily prevent the Corcoran’s Board of Trustees from relocating. It does, however, serve as a critical reminder to the Trustees and the community at large about the cultural and historic significance of the Corcoran’s home. Moreover, the limitations on construction will immediately impact the Board’s ability to sell the building.

We also want to draw your attention to Phillip Kennicott’s editorial that will be in this Sunday’s Washington Post. We have copied the article in its entirety and it is posted below this entry.

Entitled, “As Corcoran Sale Looms, the Silence of its Board of Directors is Disturbing,” this excellent article outlines several of the most important concerns that the Corcoran community has been voicing since the beginning of the summer. We encourage all of you to take a moment to read the article, and to consider sharing it with other concerned individuals.  As Kennicott states at the conclusion of his piece, “Although legally the board has the right to decide the future of the Corcoran, civically it answers to the people of Washington, the larger Corcoran community and the spirit of William Wilson Corcoran.”

To that end, we want to thank you for you ongoing effort to support this issue over the past four months.  By signing the Save the Corcoran petition, participating in community forums, spreading the word, or simply following us on Facebook and Twitter, you are taking a vitally important role in this cause.

The fact is that we still have a long road ahead of us.  But as we have said from the start, the strength of any cultural institution is in the community that supports it.  Having you as an active part of that community has made a huge difference in our efforts so far, and we simply cannot thank you enough.

Best Regards,

The Save the Corcoran Coalition

As Corcoran sale looms, the silence of its board of directors is disturbing

By Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post

Nobody really seems to know what the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College is thinking. As the institution heads toward a momentous decision — the possible sale of its historic 1897 home on 17th Street NW — we’ve heard from the Corcoran’s leadership, from its employees, from the people who teach in its respected art school, and from the many artists who consider it a vital part of the local creative ecosystem. But, except for appearances by individual members at community meetings, the board remains mum.

The group psychology of a board of directors may be the most important, if least understood, factor in an organization’s ability to think strategically and make smart decisions. Since the Corcoran announced in June that it may decamp for the suburbs, the leadership has struggled to reassure the community that no decision has been made, that it is merely exploring myriad ways to get out from under the accumulated cost of dealing with deferred maintenance presented by its stately home opposite the White House.

The board’s silence, however, has contributed to a pervasive sense that something else is going on. Ask around, and many people involved with the organization, and cultural leaders with their ears to the ground, say the same thing: that the decision to sell has already been made, that community meetings held after the June announcement were simply a panicked response to public outrage, that the ultimate goal is to relocate the financially more stable college to Alexandria and downgrade the museum function.

The Corcoran insists that isn’t true. All options are still on the table, says a spokeswoman.

But many in the community are convinced a decision is coming fast, and like so many decisions in Washington, once announced it will be a fait accompli.

That makes it all the more essential that the public understand the board’s thinking, its composition and its sense of its own responsibility. The public needs to be able to directly address the board, question it, and decide if these are the right people to be entrusted with what many feel could be suicidal changes.

Mimi Carter, Corcoran vice president of marketing and communications, insists that the board has in fact been open, attending meetings and engaging the public. But she says deliberations about the Corcoran’s future need to be behind closed doors.

“The Corcoran is, of course, a private corporation,” Carter said in a statement. “Negotiations with specific opportunities cannot ensure the best terms for the Corcoran if those discussions are held in public. It would be difficult to site any example where any private entity would decide to conduct these types of discussions in public.”

The Corcoran isn’t a private company in the usual sense, however. It is a nonprofit, and every year that it has benefited from nonprofit tax laws, its mission and future have effectively become more a matter of public concern.

Unfortunately, years of chaotic leadership have led to an exceptional sense of distrust, not only of the executive leadership, but of the board that hires and fires that leadership. Consultants have been hired, reports commissioned, and leaders come and go. But when the buck stops in an organization such as the Corcoran, it ultimately stops at the board.

One museum analyst familiar with the Corcoran’s woes but unwilling to give advice on the record lists unknowns that should be known if the public is to have faith in a board: How many are actively engaged? What kind of development of new members has taken place? What role does the executive leadership have in forming the board over time?

The fear in the community is that the Corcoran board has reached the point of desperation, that its plan is to throw up its hands and give up the fight. Which leads one to wonder, is it time for a clean sweep, fire the board and start over?

Radical remakes of nonprofit boards aren’t easy, but sometimes they are necessary. Five years ago, leaders of the Houston Grand Opera grappled with a board that had grown so large — around 175 members — that it was no longer effective. They opted for a leaner, more active group, which meant, in effect, transitioning dozens of people into new roles as trustees rather than board members. But that required enlightened leadership from within the institution, which the Corcoran seems to lack.

The Corcoran board could avoid a firestorm of hostility by being more open and engaging the public. Any decision that involves sale of the building should include a meaningful public comment period, open deliberation and a public vote. Although legally the board has the right to decide the future of the Corcoran, civically it answers to the people of Washington, the larger Corcoran community and the spirit of William Wilson Corcoran.

Presevervationists file to protect Corcoran

By David Montgomery, The Washington Post

Historic preservationists nominated most of the graceful interior of the Corcoran Gallery of Art as a local architectural landmark Monday, a move that opens a new front in the battle over the economically struggling museum’s future.

While the Corcoran’s 1897 beaux-arts home near the White House was designated a national historic landmark in 1992, that distinction does not protect it from radical alterations by a private developer. The 68-page nomination filed by the D.C. Preservation League under the District’s preservation ordinance would require public review of significant construction work.

The city’s nine-member Historic Preservation Review Board will decide if the Corcoran’s vast atrium, grand staircase, rotunda, galleries and other critical spaces merit landmark protection, following a public hearing in the coming months. For now, the simple act of submitting the nomination blocks any construction in the historic areas, according to city preservation officials.

“Interior public spaces of this grandeur are very rare in Washington,” said Rebecca Miller, executive director of the preservation league, a membership organization founded in 1971 to save the Willard Hotel and other cherished downtown structures. Miller compared the Corcoran to Union Station, whose interior the league also recently nominated. “It’s fairly unique to have an interior that is as intact as the Corcoran is.”

The landmark proposal comes as the Corcoran’s leadership considers selling the building and moving to another location, possibly outside the city. Placing limitations on an owner’s ability to reconfigure the interior could complicate efforts to sell. Developers have previously told The Washington Post that the building would be worth more if it weren’t a historic landmark.

Now Corcoran officials find themselves in the unusual position of having to decide whether to oppose the nomination — and argue that the interior is not worthy of being landmarked — or support it and perhaps affect the market value of the building.

Mimi Carter, the Corcoran’s senior director of communications and marketing, said gallery officials had no comment.

Activists opposed to the Corcoran’s possible move hailed the preservationists’ proposal as a boost to their cause.

“My real hope is that it will give them significant pause in going ahead and selling the building,” said Roberta Faul-Zeitler, a former director of communications for the gallery who has been active with the group Save the Corcoran. “There’s no guarantee, even with landmark status, that it won’t be sold. But it probably will be a deterrent to anyone who has a notion that they can come in there and turn it into a private club or a perhaps even an embassy.”

The Corcoran’s executives have said that the gallery and the affiliated Corcoran College of Art and Design must consider relocating because it would cost an estimated $130 million to renovate the building to modern museum standards. Millions more would have to be spent to expand the college, they said. The Corcoran does not have that kind of money. Recent fundraising has lagged, and the institution posted a deficit of $7 million for the fiscal year ended in June.

No decision on whether to stay or go has been made, Carter said. And she said she had no details on potential buyers or potential new locations.

The Corcoran’s board of trustees voted last month to hire the real estate services firm CBRE to field offers and scout locations. Emanuel Fitzgerald, executive vice president with CBRE, did not return a telephone call Monday seeking comment.

Landmarked interiors are relatively rare in Washington. There are about 700 landmarked exteriors, but only 19 interiors, including Eastern Market, the Warner Theatre and the Chevy Chase Arcade, said David Maloney, the city’s historic preservation officer. The Corcoran’s exterior received local landmark status in 1964.

One reason for the disparity is that preservationists generally consider exteriors most vital to the public experience of a historic property, Maloney said. But buildings with quasi-public missions and intact interiors are good candidates for landmarking, Miller said.

The paperwork filed by the preservation league builds the case for landmarking the Corcoran’s interior on two arguments: The gallery has been tied to “events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history,” including the rise of American art movements, the evolution of museums in the capital and gatherings of historically important figures; and the interior is architecturally distinctive, notably in how the spaces were skillfully designed to their purpose.

Faul-Zeitler, before she worked at the Corcoran, chained herself to a railing of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the early 1970s to protect the building from demolition. She said that she notified the preservation league in June of the Corcoran’s potential move and suggested landmarking.

Miller said the league was already focusing on the Corcoran, especially following the canceled 2005 museum expansion designed by Frank Gehry. That project would have destroyed some of the historic spaces the league now seeks to protect.

The league takes no position on the Corcoran’s possible relocation, Miller said. “We are looking to safeguard this historic resource,” she said. “Whether or not the institution leaves the building is up to them. We are not an organization that dictates use, unless the use will destroy the landmark.”

Corcoran board picks CBRE to assess museum building, consider relocation

Article written by Jonathan O’Connell with contributions by David Montgomery, for
The Washington Post.

The board of trustees at the Corcoran Gallery of Art voted Tuesday to hire the real estate services firm CBRE to evaluate the value of the Corcoran’s Beaux-Arts building and possibly help the museum secure a new home elsewhere in the region.

The board chose CBRE through a competitive process and the museum expects to finalize an agreement with the firm shortly, according to Gallery spokeswoman Mimi Carter. The action follows the board’s June decision to test the market for the building.

“The plan remains to assess the value of the building as one among several critical components, in order to implement a strategy to ensure the long term stability of the Corcoran,” she said in a written statement. “To move toward a robust and successful future, the Trustees are evaluating all options including partnerships, relocation, and renovating the existing building. The Corcoran has moved before and one option is to consider relocating to a purpose-built, technologically advanced, facility that is cost effective to maintain.”

Constructed in 1897 with a wing added 30 years later, the 129,000-square-foot museum is one of the closest buildings to the White House but does not lend itself to redevelopment for other uses because of its historical significance and design as a museum.

The Corcoran’s board is considering the building’s sale to address chronic funding shortages. It posted a $7.2 million deficit for the fiscal year ended last June and is considering moving because it would cost an estimated $130 million to bring its landmark home up to modern museum standards. Many artists, however, oppose a sale of the building.

A spokeswoman for CBRE declined to say who at the firm would lead the Corcoran work.

Save The Corcoran Coalition Calls on Corcoran Trustees to Negotiate Expanded Space in Washington, D.C.

Group Cites Widespread Opposition to Proposed Sale of Historic Location, Demands Greater Clarity and Community Engagement During Real Estate Transactions

WASHINGTON, D.C. August 20, 2012 — The Save the Corcoran Coalition (STC) today called upon Corcoran CEO Fred Bollerer, Board Chairman, Harry Hopper, and the Corcoran’s Board of Trustees to demonstrate a greater commitment to maintaining the gallery’s home in Washington, D.C. The request follows the surprising June 4 announcement that The Corcoran’s Board had voted to price the historic Flagg Building that houses the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

“The logical and absolute next step after a real market appraisal is hiring a real estate broker and commencing a sale,” said Jacqueline Hiersteiner, member of STC and Co- Chair of the Corcoran Alumni Steering Committee. “The Board of Trustees owes not only the Corcoran community, but also the city of Washington, D.C., more information about this decision and their intent.”

Citing 3,200-signature petition urging leadership not to put the building up for sale before all options have been explored, STC also proposed to the Board a potential solution for expanding the Corcoran College of Art + Design within D.C.

“Corcoran leaders have repeatedly noted the need for space, yet a commercial building is under development adjacent to the museum,” said Jayme McLellan, adjunct faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and member of STC. “We respectfully ask leadership to negotiate with Carr Properties about discounted or perhaps space donated in kind in this building. It is a natural solution that would address several of the challenges the Corcoran currently faces.”

In 2011, the Corcoran leased the real estate in question to Carr Properties, and later sold that lease without making provisions for more space in the new building for the school. Facing a critical need for expanded studios and classrooms, many associated with the Corcoran College of Art + Design found the decision confusing and concerning.

“There is no reason to believe that Carr wouldn’t have been open to negotiating more space for the College and Gallery had the offer been on the table,” said Washington artist and WETA commentator, Bill Dunlap. “Unfortunately, the only way to ensure it won’t happen is by not asking in the first place. It is critical and long overdue for the Corcoran’s leaders to work towards these types of community partnerships.”

Save The Corcoran believes that the Corcoran/Flagg building is an historic, cultural icon deeply tied to the history of the nation and Washington, D.C., and that it provides an ideal environment for a museum and an art college. A neighbor to the White House, Old Executive Office Building, National Mall and Smithsonian Institution, the current location is a registered National Historic Landmark, one of only 2,500 sites and buildings in the US designated by the Secretary of the Interior.

Moreover, as the oldest private art gallery in Washington, D.C. many believe that a move out of the city would represent not only a violation of the Corcoran’s charter, but a tremendous loss to Washington’s cultural landscape.

“The Corcoran has the best collection of 19th Century American Painting and the best facility for showing it in Washington,” said Jack Rasmussen, Director and Curator, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. “The Corcoran also has a tradition of supporting the living artists of this city. These two crucial and complementary functions cannot be moved to the suburbs. They belong in the heart of our nation’s capital, supported by a partnership of public and private funders and a Board of Trustees fully committed to seeing the Corcoran flourish here. Moving to the suburbs will surely kill the Corcoran Museum of Art and its School of Art + Design, and leave a smoking crater in our cultural landscape.”

Moving forward, STC implored the Corcoran leadership to take a more active role in the ongoing community discourse surrounding the potential sale of the historic building.

“It was incredibly disappointing to learn that although the Corcoran organized two community meetings this summer to discuss the future of the museum, the overwhelming majority of Corcoran leaders and Trustees did not attend,” said McLellan. “The strength of any cultural institution is in the community that supports it, and Corcoran leadership must recognize this. We ask that decision-makers are present and participate at the next community meeting, taking place August 23 at the Corcoran.”

 

Allow the Corcoran to make its own decisions

By Washington Post Editorial Board, Published: August 7


AS THE OLDEST private art museum in the District, the Corcoran Gallery of Art caused quite a stir earlier this summer when it announced the possibility of a move from its historic Beaux-Arts palazzo across from the White House. The perennially under-funded museum posted a $7.2 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended in June 2011 and told The Post two months ago that the cost of maintaining its flagship could reach more than $130 million. Hence the controversial decision to consider a move to “a purpose-built, technologically advanced, flexible, multipurpose facility” in the suburbs.

The possibility of such a move, however, may prove more complicated than the museum’s board of trustees anticipated.

The Corcoran is a nonprofit organization and, as such, would be subject to the District’s nonprofit corporation law. According to that law, the attorney general is authorized to bring action in D.C. Superior Court against any organization that “has continued to act contrary to its nonprofit purposes.” In the Corcoran’s case, there’s an argument to be made that those “nonprofit purposes” have a lot to do with its particular location in the District itself. Although it’s true that William Wilson Corcoran imagined a museum “dedicated to art” that would be “used solely for the purpose of encouraging American genius,” the preamble to the Corcoran’s 1869 deed nevertheless explicitly mentions “an institution in Washington City.” Along the same lines, the act of Congress that incorporated the Corcoran the following year also mentions the museum’s location in “Washington county, District of Columbia.”

Last week, the Attorney General’s Office said that it’s now “looking into the issues involved in Corcoran’s possible move.” Of course, the Corcoran hasn’t yet officially announced if or when it will leave the District, but it’s now apparent that there could be a struggle should its trustees ultimately make that decision.

Another struggle is exactly what the Corcoran doesn’t need. The museum is still recovering from its decision to cancel a controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in 1989 and its failure to raise sufficient funds for a Frank Gehry expansion in 2005. Regardless of the authority the attorney general may have, the Corcoran’s trustees should be allowed to do what’s best for the future of the museum without any additional distractions — even if it means leaving the District.

Naturally, abandoning Ernest Flagg’s marble masterpiece at the corner of 17th Street and New York Avenue NW should be a last resort, and — if they have to sell — the Corcoran’s trustees should do everything in their power to ensure that the building remains “dedicated to art.” But whatever decision they make in the end, it should be theirs and theirs alone.


STC wrote to the Washington Post Editorial Board in response to this article.  We are still awaiting a reply–

Letter to the Editor:

Upon seeing the Editorial, “Allow the Corcoran to Make Its Own Decisions”, I immediately wondered if anyone on the Post’s editorial board had read the excellent coverage their staff has already given to the gallery’s crisis of leadership.

The article states, “Regardless of the authority the attorney general may have, the Corcoran’s trustees should be allowed to do what’s best for the future of the museum…”, yet the current crisis clearly illustrates that the Corcoran’s trustees are unable to “do what’s best for the future of the museum.”

Selling off the desperately-needed commercial space adjacent to the gallery was not what was best for the future of the Corcoran. It only made the Corcoran’s shortage of space more severe.

Neglecting fundraising has not been what’s best for the future of the museum. It only crippled the museum’s finances.

Repeatedly alienating the arts community has not been what’s best for the future of the museum.  It only reduced the number of advocates the museum could have during this crisis.

The Post has long argued for more accountability and transparency from corporate boards.  A Corcoran leadership team that is imperiling the survival of a cultural icon should not get a free pass.

 

Bill Dunlap: An Open Letter to the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Past and Present

I write to respectfully urge you, the Trustees, to do all in your powers to preserve the Corcoran Gallery of Art – in place, in its landmark beaux arts building at 17th Street and New York Avenue, NW.

The mere suggestion of a possible sale and subsequent relocation has created an enormous groundswell of art world and community concern, objection, and in some quarters, outrage.

This outpouring is genuine and as passionate as it was unexpected. The consensus is that the loss of so formidable and consequential a Temple of Art as is the Corcoran’s late 19th century Ernest Flagg designed building is simply too catastrophic to contemplate.

Crisis creates opportunity and the search for a new director, or CEO as the position is called, is laudable. An entrepreneurial, visionary and tireless museum professional who can turn this situation around will be well rewarded and remembered. By the same token, history will not look kindly on those of us who would let the Corcoran slip away for lack of something that the Art World is currently awash in – money.

I would further urge the Trustees not to be blinded by the scarlet ink of a bottom line. The Corcoran’s future can be as bright as its luminous past. Surely this audible outcry from an impassioned public can be converted into positive benefit for the preservation, improvement, advancement and financial stability of the Corcoran – in place.

To my mind, the solution to the Corcoran’s dilemma and its cause are one and the same – institutional memory, and the lack thereof. With the sesquicentennial celebration of the Corcoran’s founding less than a decade away, it would appear some soul searching of a serious nature is in order.

Outreach of every stripe – traveling the priceless collection, satellite galleries, off-site studios and classrooms, suburban branches… would be welcome. But the Corcoran’s greatest asset, its most important work of art, its very core, is without question the building itself.

It is said that life is short, yet Art is long. Trustees, directors, curators, registrars, even artists, come and go but Art, we like to think, is forever. After all these years, the Corcoran Gallery of Art now belongs to our generation – but it is only ours in trust. To abandon and dispose of this building would be to breach a trust that is as sacred as anything in the secular world.

I respectfully urge you, not to let that happen.

William Dunlap
McLean, VA
August 9, 2012

Upcoming meetings held by The Corcoran:

Show up and have your voice heard!

Community Meeting at The Corcoran
Thursday, August 2 at 7:00 p.m.

This community meeting is to discuss the Corcoran’s future and issues surrounding the Gallery specifically.  This session is focused around listening to the broader Corcoran community and will include a panel of community members, including artist/educator/commentator Bill Dunlap and writer/performer Holly Bass. Chief Curator Philip Brookman will be on hand to answer questions, and Director of Development Communications Mark Swartz will moderate a discussion around three topics: integration of the Gallery and College, the Corcoran’s identity, and a sustainable model for the future.

Community Meeting at The Corcoran
Thursday, August 23 at 7:00 p.m.

As the Corcoran makes decisions about its future, which include finding a new director, the Board and leadership are interested in hearing the views of our community. Although the issue of College-Gallery integration is certain to arise, the College is the focus of this meeting.

UPDATE

Friends,

We wanted to alert you to some important developments in our efforts to stop the misguided sale of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a National Historic Landmark and one of America’s oldest museums. This coming week will be pivotal to our campaign.

First, we’re excited that Save the Corcoran’s Jayme McLellan will be on NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on Monday at 1230pm ET to talk more about the current situation. Please listen live. Call in to the show, post comments at the website or tweet with the hashtag #savethecorcoran to show your support.

Also, today Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott published a piece that put things in stark relief: “…at a critical moment, when the Corcoran desperately needs people to rally behind it, the board of directors has indicated that it is seriously considering a move that would further alienate supporters of the museum.”

On that last point, he is right, and we cannot afford to underestimate how far things have progressed behind closed doors. Comparing the non-transparent maneuvering by the current leadership to the “dictatorial and disenfranchising” executive decisions that rocked Susan G. Komen for the Cure earlier this year, Kennicott warns that “the college and the collection is now in danger of being whittled down to just the college, leaving the collection without a landmark home.”

Our best hope right now is to stop this sale at the board level. Please SIGN OUR PETITION calling on the board to vote NO. We ask those of you who have contacts in the art world to get this story out and rally support for our cause. Please forward this posting to people who care about art and ask them to speak up with us.

We deeply appreciate everything you are doing to help Save The Corcoran.