The Corcoran’s $1.5 Million Question
Thursday evening, at the first community meeting held to address the future of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran's Vice President of Public Education Sarah Durkee and newly minted Vice President of Communications Mimi Carter walked a crowd of about 100 people through a PowerPoint presentation on the current reality and future uncertainty of the museum. They, along with Corcoran President Fred Bollerer and senior curator Paul Roth, fielded questions—first, frequently asked questions assembled by the Corcoran itself, then live-wire questions from the audience.
At least two important budget questions were answered: The museum is not, has not, and will not consider deaccessioning works to plug its budget hole, Roth assured. And the $20.5 million made from the sale of the lease with Carr Properties for the parking lot—$4 million of which it has already received, with another $10.5 million coming within the next two years—went toward immediate cash flow. (Which means that, on the books anyway, the Corcoran will end FY 2012 in the black, despite running another $7 million operational deficit for the year.) But the last page of the PowerPoint summarized the proceedings best. That page read, in its entirety, "We want you to be part of this process and believe you can help us define what the Corcoran will be."
What the Corcoran will be is a question it has spent some time working to answer—since Bollerer came on board, since the Frank Gehry wing failed (since the Frank Gehry wing was introduced), since the Mapplethorpe scandal. More recently, the institution has committed considerable resources to anchoring its philosophy. According to one slide, "Question #12: Tell us more about the consultants," the Corcoran has paid $2.1 million $1.5 million to consultants to analyze the mechanics and identity of the museum and college. [See the update below.]
But the Corcoran hasn't arrived at any solutions. "Visitorship, proximity to other institutions we care about, how location will meld our strategic vision—all this will be part of that final calculus," said trustee Kathryn Gleason. The crowd posed a few ideas and concerns: One woman suggested moving the Corcoran to a plot on the Kennedy Center grounds. Sporting a trendy "Stay Sane and Don't Sell" t-shirt, Corcoran fine-art photography senior Tom Pullin asked the leadership to draw on the creativity of the Corcoran students. Nicole Gray, an alum who is currently pursuing a Master's degree at the Corcoran, emphasized the role of the collection and building in her education. School's out for summer, so few other students were in attendance; and although D.C. is lousy with young Corcoran alumni, scores of whom can be spotted at any Philippa Hughes salon or Brightest Young Things party, the twentysomethings in the room numbered around a dozen. Maybe.
There's one decision that the Corcoran will make soon: bringing on new leadership. Naree Viner of Heidrick and Struggles, another consultant group, has been tapped to lead a search committee, which will comprise all 15 trustees and six other members (students, faculty, and staff). While the Corcoran is searching for a new president to replace Bollerer, it's a good bet the institution will also be searching its soul.
UPDATE: The Corcoran's tax fillings for 2009 show that it paid roughly $600,000 to Real Change Strategies, a portion of which includes Bollerer's salary as interim chief operating officer; its filings for 2010 show that it paid Real Change about $227,000. However, in the PowerPoint presentation that the Corcoran aired last night, this total was broken across several columns representing figures paid to Real Change between 2009 and 2013. I inadvertently summed the 2009 figure twice, and I regret the accounting error. In total, the Corcoran has paid roughly $1.5 million to Real Change and Lord Cultural Resources over the span. The Corcoran's presentation does not state any fees paid to retain Heidrick and Struggles for its executive search.
Photo by Kriston Capps