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“Save The Corcoran” Itself Needs Saving

Since I wrote here two days ago about the strange, even silly goings-on at Save the Corcoran, I’ve learned a thing or two that only makes the group’s stance worse.

CorcoranA brief recap: Save the Corcoran endorsed Wayne Reynolds for chairman of the board of the Corcoran, even though he plans to sell off the collection to pay the bills for a plan to expand the Corcoran College of Art and Design, boost the focus on technology and new media, as well as “traditional arts disciplines.” Aand even though he wants to “de-emphasize the gallery” because it can’t compete with “the free, federally funded galleries in town.” Those quotes come from an article in the Washington Post.

In a press release, STC quoted Terrance Shanahan, a Corcoran member and a leader of the group as buying into Reynolds’s vision and saying, “We can no longer sit on the sidelines and let the current board meet in committees and subcommittees while the coffers drain and potential supporters dwindle. The Corcoran’s future starts now. And it starts with Wayne.”

Now I learn from a couple of sources that none of the members on the group’s Advisory Committee were consulted about the endorsement of Reynolds! They weren’t even informed of it in advance!

Linda Crocker Simmons, curator emerita of the Corcoran and an advisory committee member, is the only one going public (at the moment), but she is not alone. Here is what she wrote to me:

Thank you for pointing out what is wrong with Wayne Reynolds’ plan for the Corcoran.I would like to state that although I have been on the advisory board of the STC group I was not consulted or given any prior notice about their endorsement of Wayne Reynolds or his proposed plans for the Corcoran including de-emphasizing the museum and selling much of the art collection. I do not know who the senior advisor is who would work with Reynolds to select the portion of the collection to sell. The continued deaccessioning from the collection horrifies me. The present Corcoran Board has very little art museum experience, a non-professional director, and no full-time curator for European art so there is no one to guard the hen house except the foxes. The Corcoran has begun to eat itself alive, a form of institutional cannibalization. Too tragic. Reynolds offers nothing new to the equation. I too hope for a third choice.

Another source close to STC told me that the Advisory Committee members who objected to Reynolds’s plan were not invited to recent dinner with him and Save the Corcoran leadership.

The Advisory Committee includes many people knowledgeable about art, museums and the art world. What’s the point of having them if they are not called on to advise?

Shame on Save the Corcoran — not only for endorsing Reynolds, but also for the way they did it and they way they shut down dissent.


  1. There’s a Harvard or Stanford business case-study in here somewhere. Fear and desperation lead to such poor communications and decision-making. So sad. The Corcoran has always been a favorite museum to visit when visiting DC. It has a niche that isn’t filled by other museums in the city. They need to make more of what they ARE. It’s magical thinking to think a shift in mission is the key to revitalization.

  2. Terry Shanahan says:

    Save The Corcoran is a small group of people who are working as hard as they can. It has never sought to disengage from any of its Advisory Board members, and is reaching out to ensure that all voices are heard moving forward, and that anyone who wants to discuss why Save The Corcoran endorsed Wayne Reynolds can do so.

    Just as it opposed selling the Flagg Building to pay the Corcoran’s bills, Save The Corcoran does not condone selling the collection to cover operating costs. (In fact, we’re disappointed that your post didn’t mention the portion of the WaPo article that said as much.)

    As such, it is misleading to say that Wayne Reynolds “plans to sell of the collection to pay the bills for a plan to expand the Corcoran College of Art and Design… .” That makes it sound as if he intends to auction every piece in The Corcoran’s collection. Ms. Crocker Simmons acknowledges what is truly happening at The Corcoran now when she says that the “continued deaccessioning from the collection” horrifies her. The fact is that The Corcoran is currently selling off the collection, not to buy more art, not for preservation, and not for ensuring that systems are in place to protect the artwork, but to make payroll and pay other bills.

    While Mr. Reynolds’ vision needs to be articulated more specifically–and shaped by stakeholders of all kinds–it is abundantly clear that the current board and management of The Corcoran have failed, and that no viable alternative to Mr. Reynolds has emerged. The Corcoran, without meaningful intervention in the very near-term, will go under.

  3. Steven Miller says:

    Clearly Reynolds wants to take advantage of the Corcoran’s duress to create his own institution in his own image. What that is remains to be seen but his fundraising plan to sell the collection is terrible. At best it suggests he is not the accomplished fundraiser his PR press indicates, at worst, it means the irreversible loss of valued art acquired, studied, exhibited and preserved for pubic benefit. It appears Reynolds is coldly eyeing a distressed beloved cultural establishment to establish something for his own personal ego. Its school and its art is what makes the Corcoran important. That will change when Reynolds rules the roost.

  4. The Corcoran poisoned their own fund raising and pr well more than two decades ago when their board cancelled the Mapplethorpe exhibit. The board was cowardly and did irreparable harm to their status as stewards of art. Today a successor board has continued to make inept decisions while silencing, insulting and excluding its most ardent supporters like those on the Advisory Board that is not asked its opinion. Can this mess be cleaned up? Hard to tell.

    When they began to suffer deficits so severe they had to sell off art to make payroll, as Terry Shanahan posits, then they showed their tendency to react rather than plan ahead. Perhaps their entire collection should be dispersed to better run museums, and the current establishment closed. It’s the art, not the buildings or board that count. They should not be allowed to sell of their very reason for being in order to keep this ship of fools afloat..

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