Who’s on Team Corcoran? For now, it’s just a team of one, themselves. It seems like everyone living in Washington D.C. wants to save the Corcoran Gallery of Art from being sold, except, of course, the Corcoran. The past month has seen some added drama to the situation: the museum hired an international real estate agent, and in response, an area non-profit has filed paperwork on the museum’s behalf that would prevent any future construction inside the museum. That’s a whole lot of architecture-preservation-legal-stuff to digest, but the biggest thing to know is that right now, the city has been bustling with activity by civilian groups opposed to the museum’s potential move.
First off, there’s a grassroots organization called Save the Corcoran that’s been the most vocal proponent for making sure the museum stays put. They’ve been writing petitions and hosting events, but they’re still just the little guys. So, with the help of one of it’s advisory council members, the longstanding D.C. Preservation League came up with a curious route to halt the Corcoran’s plans: listing the Corcoran as an historic interior. Sure, the museum had been listed as a “National Historic Landmark in 1992,” as Kriston Capps reported in the Washington City Paper, “but that designation only extends to its exterior architecture, not the inside of the building.”
That hairsplitting distinction might put a big roadblock in the Corcoran’s plans: any building designated, even through nomination, with an historic interior cannot be changed in any way without a public hearing. The Corcoran Gallery of Art will have 90 days from the historic status announcement to request a hearing in their defense.
Roberta Faul-Zeitler, one of the key figures responsible for helping initiate the proposal, told us over the phone that she’s optimistic because “the nomination itself carries the force of law.” With that law, no one can change or move a single thing until the process is complete, Faul-Zeitler said, “Not even the columns.” And that process could take years.
It’s not just a problem of losing an historic landmark. There’s red flags all around with a museum selling its building and relocating elsewhere. That type of massive change points to just how severe the Corcoran’s financial troubles may be. Several members of Save the Corcoran are current or former staff at the museum or the Corcoran College of Art + Design, and they appear acutely aware of just how badly managed the museum has become. “It’s way worse than you can imagine,” we were told by one of the group’s active members. As one of the group’s active members told us Wednesday, “It’s way worse than you can imagine.”