Arts Desk

Corcoran Students Protest Leadership, but Action May Come Too Late

Earlier this afternoon, a new student campaign called Students for Saving the Corcoran launched a protest outside of Paul Hastings, the law firm where the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design is reportedly holding its meeting today. The board may be assembling to vote on a partnership with the University of Maryland, a deal that could put the student group's demands out of reach.

The Students for Saving the Corcoran introduced a statement demanding the resignations of Corcoran president Fred Bollerer and board chair Harry Hopper III as well as the installation of philanthropist Wayne Reynolds as the Corcoran's new board chair. Reynolds gave a charged talk last week during a reception he hosted at the Hay-Adams Hotel regarding his plans for the museum and college, which would involve major deaccessioning of the museum's collection and a makeover for the entire institution. Reynolds' plan for the Corcoran Center for Creativity has won the support of the Save the Corcoran organization and drawn bitter denunciations from Corcoran curators, including chief curator Philip Brookman.

Both today's protest and Reynolds' campaign may be too little, too late. Corcoran Provost Catherine Armour has already told students and faculty that University of Maryland Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin will be meeting with them at the Corcoran on Monday to discuss the deal. A deal with Maryland would seemingly preclude Reynolds' effort to reform the institution; Reynolds said as much, anyway, asking supporters at his event to lobby board members to support his vision and forestall any other decision on the Corcoran's fate. Furthermore, the Corcoran is currently conducting a search for Bollerer's replacement.

Most students were out of session when the City Paper broke the news last June that leaders at the Corcoran were considering selling their historic Beaux-Arts home near the White House and moving elsewhere. By December, when the Corcoran officially decided against that plan, students may have been too preoccupied with studio crits and portfolio reviews to mount any action campaign. But at least one Corcoran student, Judas Recendez, did make his opinion known: by posting letters spelling "4SALE" in the windows along the Corcoran's facade back in October.

Full text of the protest letter follows:

To the Corcoran Board of Trustees,

We, The Students for Saving the Corcoran, begin our campaign of action today at the Corcoran College of Art + Design as we have been incredibly troubled by the constant problems the Corcoran has endured due to an irresponsible administration. This action is in response to the lack of transparency and accountability that has plagued our college and museum for the past decade and now threatens the institution’s future stability and founding mission to encourage American Genius.

We have initiated this campaign because we believe you are leading the college down the wrong road. Continuous poor decision-making by the Board of Trustees and leadership has contributed to a dire financial deficit for which no one has been held accountable. The manner in which the Corcoran is being governed is deplorable and consequences must be faced for this blatant mismanagement. Your actions have disrupted our creativity and environment for learning, as well as jeopardizing the futures and careers of hundreds of students. You have left us with little choice than to bring your actions into public light.

We will continue our campaign until the following demands have been met:

1. The board of trustees must immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating transparent and democratic decision-making process.
The administration’s gross mismanagement and cronyism warrants a new and different process than what has led the college into this crisis. To end this pattern, we have outlined initiatives that the board must take:

• Record and document board meetings and make minutes publicly available;
• Appoint a student, a faculty member, a staff member and alumni as voting members of the Board of Trustees;
• Implement a board member removal process where board members may be removed by a majority vote from the Corcoran student body and Faculty Association.

2. Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Harry F. Hopper III and Director Fred Bollerer must resign immediately. Under your tenure, the Corcoran has been set on a path to financial ruin. Your lack of vision, accountability, credentials and integrity has shown you are no longer suitable for the positions you hold.

3. Appoint Wayne Reynolds as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The appointment of Mr. Reynolds will allow the Corcoran to thrive once again without the aid of a partner. It is our goal that the Corcoran remain independent until the institution is financially stable. Mr. Reynolds’ vision will realign the institution with the original intentions of its founder, William Wilson Corcoran, as a place for creativity, world-class contemporary art and the encouragement of American genius.

Photo by Save the Corcoran's Jayme McLellan

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  • Ann Other

    From Harry Hopper, sent to Corcoran faculty and staff at 4 pm:

    Dear Corcoran Staff and Faculty:

    On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I take great pleasure in sharing with you the news of an integral group of decisions approved at the board meeting today. Together, these decisions move us forward dramatically toward a sustainable future for both the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

    First, we have approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Maryland to explore a potential partnership.

    The University of Maryland has strong art and art history programs that offer BA, MFA and PhD degrees and is prominent in fields including architecture, education, engineering and the performing arts, which integrates well with the Corcoran’s expertise in art and design. The combined and complementary strengths of our two institutions could lead to transformative excellence in education, scholarship, and exhibitions, for the national capital region and beyond.

    Some points to remember about this potential agreement:

    The Gallery and the College will continue as parts of an integrated whole.

    The Corcoran Gallery will remain in the iconic Flagg Building and its additions, and the College will remain in Washington, D.C.
    The Corcoran identity and brand will be preserved.
    College graduates will continue to receive a Corcoran degree.

    Second, we have completed an agreement of unprecedented scope with the National Gallery of Art, under which the Corcoran will exhibit works of modern and contemporary art from the National Gallery’s collection during the three-year period when the East Wing is under renovation.

    Third, we have appointed museologist Peggy Loar as Consulting Director of the Corcoran. Ms. Loar brings exceptional skills and experience to this position, having served as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Series, the first program director of the Institute of Museum Services, the founding director of the Wolfsonian Museum and Research Center and, most recently, the director of the National Museum of Qatar. She will assist us in navigating the next stage of the Corcoran's future, managing our collaborative discussions with UMD, and executing our exciting exhibition schedule, including the co-operative exhibitions with the National Gallery of Art.

    Fred Bollerer, who has so ably steered this institution through a period of financial risk, and who graciously extended his contract with the Corcoran at the board’s request, twice deferring his planned retirement, has kindly agreed to assist the transition as Peggy Loar moves into her new role.

    Finally, we have adopted a Strategic Framework for a New Corcoran, developed by the Corcoran’s board on the basis of our thorough, in-depth research and senior staff deliberations. The Strategic Framework will be the guide for partner institutions (including the University of Maryland), potential donors, and our own staff leadership as we realize the future of the Corcoran.

    We now will move ahead confidently with the active help of our institutional partners, donors, members, faculty, and staff as we implement the Strategic Framework. This document sets goals that can be achieved on the basis of the Corcoran’s existing strengths, as the only institution in the national capital region that is both a museum and a college. It calls for the Corcoran to:

    focus on Contemporary Art, American Art, and Design;
    build on a recognized commitment to community engagement; and
    develop an ability to address the cultural, social, economic, and political issues of our day.

    Initiatives specified in the Strategic Framework include reviving the Corcoran Biennial with an emphasis on international artists dealing with Contemporary issues and ideas; concentrating on the collection of Contemporary Art, American Art; extending the impact of the College by partnering with a leading local university and increasing the Corcoran’s educational presence outside the institution’s walls; and working more broadly and deeply with partners in the Washington area to bring Contemporary art into political and social discussion and debate. The agreement with the University of Maryland advances the Corcoran toward many of these goals.

    For the last two years, the Corcoran board has grappled with some very difficult tasks. Today, I am very pleased with the results of the work we have done together with you, and am proud of the accomplishments of the Board and this great institution. The Board looks forward to your thoughts, and to the engagement of the entire Corcoran community, as we move ahead.


    Harry Hopper

    Chairman, Board of Trustees

  • Citizen

    So did Wayne and the little woman forgive the student loans with the loan shark interest rates for these kids or what?

    I guess Wayne's Good Friday afternoon soiree was for naught. Perhaps he'll have better luck with his Ramadan Crab Fest and Yom Kippur all you can eat baby back barbecue.

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