Liked and loathed in equal measure for its shopping chains and cupcake queues, Georgetown might one day soon be a magnet for a different kind of crowd. Georgetown University is preparing to build a new space on campus for painting, sculpture, performance, installation, and other cutting-edge genres. The de la Cruz Gallery of Art, an addition for the school and the neighborhood, will open in fall 2017.
The new 2,500-square-foot gallery will feature visual-art shows from national and international artists working across all media. Georgetown University is billing the de la Cruz Gallery of Art as an effort to boost the university’s profile as a creative institution. At least twice a year, the de la Cruz Gallery of Art will feature shows of major modern and contemporary artists, according to Alfred Acres, art history department chair at Georgetown.
“It’s going to be a space dedicated not just to contemporary art, but also to shows of historical work, some of which are likely to be curated here at Georgetown,” Acres says.
The space takes its name from Alberto de la Cruz, an art collector from a family well known for its interest in the visual arts. His parents, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, a Miami power couple, opened a private museum called the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space in 2009 to showcase their contemporary art collection—”one of Miami’s finest,” according to Artnews.
Both Alberto and his wife, Maria de la Cruz, attended Georgetown University. Reached at his yacht in Ibiza (he is based in Puerto Rico), Alberto says that the university approached him with the idea about three years ago.
“Who I am today, a great part of that is Georgetown [University],” says Alberto de la Cruz. “Probably a lot of the success I’ve had since, I can attribute to the the training of the Jesuits.”
The family has close ties to Georgetown. Alberto’s sister, Isabel de la Cruz Ernst, who lives in the neighborhood, also inherited her parents’ love of contemporary art. Her home, the Hillandale Mansion—which she shares with her husband, Ricardo Ernst, a professor at Georgetown University—is filled with contemporary work.
Alberto de la Cruz says that he and his wife gave a one-time cash payment for the space (as opposed to an endowment). He adds that they will continue to be involved with the gallery, providing support for various events throughout the year. He and Georgetown University officials declined to specify the amount of support for the project.
The larger de la Cruz family built its fortunes through dealings in the beverage distribution sector, with an emphasis on plants in the Caribbean. In one colorful episode from 2013, a yacht belonging to Alberto was seized in a $3.4 million cocaine bust in the Dominican Republic. Investigators cleared the de la Cruz family of any wrongdoing. (Different country, different coke: Alberto heads up a Puerto Rican Coca-Cola bottling company.)
In terms of programming, the de la Cruz Gallery of Art will host monographic and thematic art shows, at times drawing on collections from D.C.-area museums and beyond. Acres says that he expects that it will be a destination for traveling shows from other university museums. Georgetown University art students will also show their work there (a big step up for the art school). While the de la Cruz Gallery of Art will be far smaller than the Katzen Arts Center at American University, its mission will be similar, Acres says. “[The de la Cruz Gallery of Art] too will be a university exhibition space that’s not particularly associated with the university collection.”
Georgetown University is carving out space for the de la Cruz Gallery from the Walsh Building, where the university art department is headquartered. The gallery will replace a black-box theater that once served as a university auditorium. The new space will complement the much smaller Spagnuolo Art Gallery, a 400-square-foot space where Georgetown University currently hosts visual art exhibitions.
Although the school declined to answer any questions about the design of the space, a permit at the Walsh Building lists as a contact Steven Spurlock, principal for the firm Wnuk Spurlock Architecture.
“Most universities have space to show art,” Alberto de la Cruz says. “There’s nothing like that for Georgetown.”
Acres did not elaborate on any future programming in the works. But if the Georgetown University space lives up to the de la Cruz family name, then it may be an important asset for a city that is long on national museums but short on local cultural destinations.
“One thing we see it doing is raising the profile of Georgetown as a visual-arts center,” Acres says. “No less important to us is what it’s going to mean for our students and the whole campus.”
The Walsh Building, future home of the de la Cruz Gallery of Art. Via Flickr user Georgetown University under a Creative Commons license.