First Look: Partnership between Corcoran School and National Gallery of Art Gives Students Behind-the-Scenes Access, a “Nightmare at the Museum” and More

April 3, 2024

Exhibition Planning Project Management Steve Mann Oct 2023

As a part of the Corcoran Workshop Series, students received a detailed view of organizing museum exhibitions by Steve Mann, the head of exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art. Mann described his many job responsibilities and explained how exhibition

By Pilar Gerena (Journalism and Mass Communication ’26)

In the fall of 2023, the George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design and the National Gallery of Art launched a new partnership that includes immersive learning and professional experience for students. Their collaboration is the first major programmatic partnership between the National Gallery and a university. In its first few months, students have attended workshops led by experts, explored working behind-the-scenes, and performed and presented in front of hundreds of National Gallery visitors.  Here is a first look at the partnership’s early accomplishments – the beginning of a much broader and deeper collaboration in the months to come.

Workshops, Talks and a Lively Debate

The Corcoran School hosted 24 workshops in 2023, many with National Gallery experts, who dove into topics as varied as exhibition writing, résumé preparation, website design and museum installation. Organized by Babette Pendleton, the program manager for the Corcoran and National Gallery’s collaboration, the series focused on introducing students to aspects of museums and art they may not have considered, while broadening their skillset. In October, Steve Mann gave Corcoran students an in-depth view into exhibition planning as the head of exhibitions for the National Gallery. In December, the series hosted a lively debate about differing curatorial approaches between Mary Morton, curator and head of the department of French paintings at the National Gallery, and Caroline Woolard, this year’s William Wilson Corcoran Visiting Professor of Community Engagement.

National Gallery experts also joined the Fine Arts led “Research and Practice” lecture series, which invites artists, writers and critics to the school to speak with the public. In March, Yuri Long, a Special Collections Librarian at the National Gallery’s Library, joined a talk about the intersection of photography and design. Photojournalism Prof. Susan Sterner and Philip Brookman, consulting curator of photographs at the National Gallery, spoke about the changes in photojournalism over the last century in February.

Students Present at “Nightmare at the Museum,” Dorothea Lange: Seeing People and more

As part of their professional practice, Corcoran students presented at events at the National Gallery throughout the year. In October, art history and museum students gave pop-up talks at the museum’s Halloween-themed party, “Nightmare at the Museum,” part of National Gallery Nights, a popular after-hours program. Many presenters were in costumes that matched the art they were guiding visitors through. In March, photojournalism students presented at Dorothea Lange: Seeing People, a show that emphasized Lange’s work on social issues in the 1930s and 1940s. They reflected on Lange’s work and career in light of their own photographic practices and research inquiries today.

Nightmare at the Museum


Corcoran art history and museum students got spooky at the National Gallery of Art. On Oct. 12, 2023, they presented pop-up talks at "Nightmare at the Museum," part of National Gallery Nights. Shown here: Meta Miller. Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art.

Faculty-led collaborations between students and the National Gallery of Art provided opportunities for direct collaboration and involvement in events open to the public. Students in the Music and Dance programs have been working directly with the National Gallery of Art in “Modulating Movements,” an immersive experience led by faculty members Heather Stebbins and Anna Kimmel where dance choreography and electronic music composition come together to explore sound and motion as a part of the National Gallery’s First Saturday series. Corcoran student Deen Chaudri, who composed music for “Modulating Movements,” said: "It's crazy to think something I made would be presented at the NGA. This experience has been amazing.”

Photojournalism students shed light on Dorothea Lange’s contributions to humanizing the effects of the Great Depression through her photography.


Photojournalism students shed light on Dorothea Lange’s contributions to humanizing the effects of the Great Depression through her photography. On March 8, 2024, they presented at the National Gallery of Art’s Dorothea Lange: Seeing People exhibition, and discussed how her work still impacts their photographic studies. Photos courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

Modulating Movements


Corcoran music & dance students at the National Gallery of Art for “Modulating Movements,” on April 6, 2024. The two-part series was a unique event presenting collaborations between electronic music composition and students of dance choreography, led by faculty members Heather Stebbins and Anna Kimmel. This immersive series will be hosted by the National Gallery, as a part of their monthly First Saturday series.

Behind the Scenes at the National Gallery

With this partnership, learning goes beyond the classroom, and courses this year included looks at the inner workings of the National Gallery. Students were invited to observe procedures that restore and protect the art that we see on its walls. In December, students in Mary Coughlin’s “Preventative Conservation Concepts” course visited the National Gallery for a tour led by its head of preventative conservation, Bethann Heinbaugh. Here, they got a look at the meticulous work involved in conserving art under different conditions. Students also got to see the complex engineering systems that account for the preservation of the museum’s many beloved artworks, like Edgar Degas’ ballerina wax figures, which require careful care and specific temperature and humidity conditions to maintain their form.

Preventative Conservation Concepts


Students in Prof. Mary Coughlin’s “Preventative Conservation Concepts” course learn about the intricacies of caring for art under various conditions. Photo by National Gallery of Art.

In November, undergraduate Interior Architecture students met with Michael Lapthorn, the National Gallery’s Chief of Design, in the Sculpture Garden in a simulated client-designer scenario. As they walked along the area, students identified sections of the Garden where they would create mock designs for wayfinding and spatial arrangements, later presented in class.

National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden


In November 2023, Corcoran students were led through the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden by its Chief of Design Michael Lapthorn, in a client-designer scenario. Photos from National Gallery of Art.

Though still in its early stages, the partnership between Corcoran School and the National Gallery has proven rewarding. It has contributed to the expansion of students’ understanding and practice of both art and museums. By coming together to provide new experiences and opportunities, both institutions are pushing the boundaries of what learning can be, and encouraging students to see themselves as contributors in the art world. Faculty and students are excited for the future ahead, and look forward to the continuation of an education reimagined.