An agreement announced today between the George Washington University, the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of Art unveils a new initiative to facilitate immersive learning, art-making and interdisciplinary research that will drive exhibitions, performances and curriculum at the Corcoran School.
The partnership stems from a 2014 agreement in which the Corcoran School of Arts and Design became part of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. The parties to that original negotiation have revised their agreement to establish a home for creativity and education at the Corcoran School that will provide students and the community at large with access to emerging art.
The scope and mission of the new initiative will unfold over the next year.
“With the National Gallery, we are creating a space for the study of arts and design that will open up the future for us,” said Lauren Onkey, director of the Corcoran since 2021. “Not only are we planning unique, behind-the-scenes experiences at the National Gallery for our students, we will be attracting visiting artists, scholars and performers, and enriching the community with exhibitions and educational opportunities. This is a real win for GW.”
The Corcoran has hosted more than 50 exhibitions and more than 500 individual performances, lectures and other live and virtual events since 2014, reaching 50,000 students and visitors across 20 locations on GW’s campus. Such public-facing programming is expected to continue and expand under the new agreement.
Starting this fall, experts from the National Gallery will teach workshops at the Corcoran on topics such as exhibition writing, design and planning, curatorial strategies, website design and project management. Students are also invited to present at special evening events at the National Gallery.
Ellen Granberg, GW’s president, enthusiastically lauded the reimagined partnership, citing the educational opportunities it will bring and its community outreach aspects.
"This historic partnership will not only bring the Corcoran Gallery’s phenomenal art and other resources to communities throughout the district, but it will also train the next generation of artists, researchers and industry leaders,” Granberg said. “Together, GW and the National Gallery of Art are creating a one-of-a-kind opportunity for GW students and faculty to engage in interdisciplinary research, education and creativity alongside the nation's foremost experts.”
A newly established Corcoran Legacy Gallery at the National Gallery will be on the main floor of its West Building. There, iconic works from the former Corcoran collection will rotate. The National Gallery was the most-visited museum in the United States in 2022, with 3.3 million visitors. The Corcoran legacy works will be seen by a new generation of museum-goers.
The collaboration is the first major programmatic partnership between the National Gallery and a university, according to Kate Haw, the National Gallery’s executive officer for collections, exhibitions and programs.
“As we launch our first major, multifaceted programmatic partnership with a university,” Haw said, “we are brimming with excitement about the potential that joining forces with the Corcoran School presents to bring more emerging artists into the National Gallery, to more widely engage our local D.C. community, and to foster a rich, interdisciplinary conversation among creative thinkers within our respective institutions and from around the world.”
The National Gallery and the Corcoran School are working together on two fronts: to immediately provide enhanced opportunities for students and to develop the mission and scope of the collaborative institute going forward.
The benefits of the new partnership will not be limited to students of the visual arts, according to Onkey, but will extend across disciplines.
“One of the most exciting things about the Corcoran is the range of disciplines that we have: from visual arts, design and the performing arts to museum studies and art history,” Onkey said. “It's a unique collection of programs. And this collaboration will have an impact on all of us and spark interdisciplinary work.”
Under the new partnership, several behind-the-scenes experiences at the National Gallery will be available to students.
“Now that we have come to this revised agreement, we can start planning in earnest for an interdisciplinary hub of activity between the two organizations,” Onkey said. “We are working toward building a collaborative initiative that will bring in visiting artists and scholars. We envision opportunities for faculty, students, artists, community members and museum staff to collaborate.”
Students will have opportunities to work with visiting artists and the National Gallery on innovative exhibitions and community engagement projects, Onkey added. There will be an initial burst of programs this fall, but she emphasized that they are only the first steps toward a much broader and deeper collaboration.
Dozens of activities are already in the works, including immersive projects in which students will experience the operations of conservation labs and interpretation audio production. Graphic design students will visit the National Gallery’s print room and learn from specialists. Students in a class taught by Melina Misri, a visiting assistant professor of interior architecture, will create mock designs for National Gallery spaces. Their efforts will be shown in December and judged by experts including Michael Lapthorn, the National Gallery’s chief of design.
An upcoming series of workshops will be open to students and faculty interested in learning from National Gallery experts. The National Gallery’s head of exhibitions, Steven Mann, will hold a workshop on exhibition planning and project management. Corcoran students will also be presenting at National Gallery Nights, a popular after-hours program, in front of hundreds of visitors.
Students of theatre and dance will be given a curator-led tour of the National Gallery’s paintings depicting fashion and textiles. There is also a lecture planned on cross-cultural use of light and color. Graphic design students will have special opportunities to learn about theories and history of graphic design as well as typography.
Faculty members from across the Corcoran School, including Laura Schiavo, associate professor and graduate advisor in the Museum Studies program, have been involved in planning for the new collaboration.
“It was exciting to be a member of the group that brought National Gallery staff and Corcoran faculty together to begin to imagine what this newly configured partnership might look like,” Schiavo said. “Now we have the good fortune to work together across institutions to make the ideas a reality. I am thrilled to be able to provide our students with behind-the-scenes access and new pedagogical experiences that will bring them in close touch with a museum of such national and local stature.”
Siobhan Rigg, associate professor of Studio Arts and head of the Design Program, has also been involved in the planning.
“This agreement is exciting because it puts resources in place to support new work by artists, designers and scholars for the long term, and because it creates great opportunities for students and the arts community more broadly,” Rigg said. “It connects students and faculty in all areas of the Corcoran School with the collections, programming and expertise of the National Gallery of Art in ways tied directly to learning, research and making.”
Echoing these remarks, Onkey emphasized her enthusiasm about the opportunities in store for GW students.
“We’re planning some one-of-a-kind experiences for our students,” Onkey said. “Stay tuned!”