Corcoran Gallery Plans Partnerships as Contributions Drop

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington’s oldest private museum, plans to partner with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University amid a declining endowment and contributions.

The National Gallery would initially assume responsibility for the Corcoran’s 17,000-piece collection under the arrangement, the institutions said yesterday in a statement. The university would maintain its Beaux-Arts style building near the White House and operate Corcoran College of Art and Design.

“We won’t continue as a museum,” Mimi Carter, a Corcoran spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. “The Corcoran will operate as a new nonprofit entity that will have programmatic responsibilities working with both the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.”

Started in 1869 from the private collection of William Wilson Corcoran, co-founder of Corcoran & Riggs bank, the museum is known for its holdings of historic and modern American art. Its works include Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 landscape “Niagara” and Rembrandt Peale’s 1824 canvas “Washington Before Yorktown.”

The specific terms of the deal will be worked out in coming weeks and the three boards are expected to vote by April 7, said Deborah Ziska, spokeswoman for the National Gallery.

The Corcoran has been struggling financially for years. Its 145-year-old building has decades of deferred maintenance, with renovations estimated at about $100 million, Carter said.

Annual Contributions

Contributions to the Corcoran fell 21 percent to $3 million in fiscal 2012 from three years earlier, according to the institution’s tax returns. The endowment declined 17 percent to $19.2 million while expenses rose 25 percent to $32.3 million, according to the latest return, which covers the period ended June 30, 2012.

Under the plan, the National Gallery would exhibit the highlights of the Corcoran collection in a “Corcoran Legacy Gallery” and use the remaining space to showcase modern and contemporary art, according to the statement. Works that aren’t accepted into the National Gallery collection will be gifted to other institutions through a distribution program.

“Nothing will be sold,” Ziska said in a telephone interview.

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