The Corcoran Comes to GW: Columbian College’s Key Role

June 17, 2014

Columbian College is poised as a pivotal player in the historic partnership between GW, the National Gallery of Art, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. With its degrees in theater, dance, museum studies, interior architecture and design, fine arts, art history, music, and art therapy, the college will be immersed in the coordination and blending of its arts programs with those of the Corcoran College, while honoring Corcoran’s distinct identity.

“I am excited about the enormous benefits of this collaboration, which serves to elevate our profile in the arts,” said Columbian College Dean Ben Vinson. “We have a great opportunity here to bring together many programs in a shared, integrated space. Co-branding with the Corcoran will lead to an inspired and robust arts program that could rival many of the best along the mid-Atlantic corridor.”

Under the agreement between the three venerable Washington, D.C., institutions, the university will maintain the historic Corcoran building as both a showplace for art and home for the Corcoran College, creating an integrated hub for the arts at GW. The National Gallery will maintain a Corcoran Legacy Gallery within the building, displaying a selection of works from the collection that are identified historically with the 17th Street landmark structure. These and other works of the Corcoran collection will be transferred to the National Gallery.

“The involvement of the National Gallery of Art presents all kinds of opportunities, from the use of galleries as teaching instruments, to possible internship and community outreach opportunities,” noted Vinson. “We have a chance to build something special, something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.”

Kym Rice, director of Columbian College’s Museum Studies Program, concurred. “In addition to the significant opportunities resulting from our partnership with the Corcoran, the involvement of the National Gallery of Art—the nation's premier art museum—will lead to greater collaboration between the museum and the university, including training possibilities for our students.”

According to the agreement, the Corcoran board will continue to pursue its original mission: “Dedicated to Art and Encouraging American Genius,” carrying forward the institution’s 145-year history by supporting the Corcoran name and legacy. Joint advisory committees with GW, National Gallery and Corcoran representatives will consult and advise on programs and activities in the 17th Street building that will promote contemporary art and artists.

"This merger could open doors and provide new opportunities for the arts at GW, both in the classroom and on the stage, surrounded by art and creating art,” said Douglas Boyce, chair of Columbian College’s Department of Music.

Next Steps

Faculty and administrators are in the process of putting together transitional teams to address numerous operational issues. Until a national search is completed, Professor of Theatre Alan Wade and Director of Interior Architecture and Design Stephanie Travis are serving as interim director and assistant director, respectively, of what is being called the Corcoran School—an academic administered by Columbian College. “The vision for this school will be developed over time,” said Wade. “My role, and that of my colleagues, is to begin the process of curricular integration of Corcoran courses into the college’s and the university’s academic structure.”

Travis is looking forward to facilitating the future organization of the school, both academically and physically. “I am very interested in how GW’s arts and design departments will come together with the Corcoran programs in a collective and dynamic way.”

Dean Vinson hopes that Corcoran and GW students will be connected through cross-collaboration across multiple departments of the college. For example, Corcoran’s strength in American art will provide valuable teaching and research options for the departments of American Studies, History, and Museum Studies. “If we do this right, we will have created something that is dynamic and unique in the landscape of arts education nationally,” he said.

The dean also noted that the collaboration with the Corcoran sends a clear message that “we are as serious about the arts as we are about the sciences,” referring to the new Science and Engineering Hall (SEH) that brings together elements of biology, chemistry, hominid paleobiology, physics and engineering. SEH is slated to open in January 2015. “Now we have another anchor in our arsenal, balancing out the arts and the sciences,” he added.

The new arts partnership is the latest chapter in a rich history shared by GW and the Corcoran. William Wilson Corcoran served as the president of the George Washington Board of Trustees from 1869 until 1888 and donated generously to the university. In 1924 Corcoran Hall on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus was dedicated to honor him.