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For the last two years, D.C. gallerist Jayme McLellan has been a public face of a group trying to thwart the dissolution of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design. In recent months, however, she was also looking forward to returning to the school in another role: professor.
Unfortunately, the Corcoran didn’t share her enthusiasm: Until last Friday, McLellan was slated to teach a class at the college this fall. Her course was in the online catalog, and with 11 registered students, it was one seat away from being full.
Then, less than three weeks before the start of the fall semester, her pending contract was pulled—-a development that McLellan alleges is retaliation for her activism.
The founding director of Civilian Art Projects, McLellan designed the course, “Professional Practices for Fine Artists,” in 2009, and it became a required class for one of the BFA programs. After teaching for a few years as an adjunct professor, McLellan left the Corcoran in 2012 because, she says, “crazy stuff was going on”: the building was possibly up for sale, management was disorganized, and there was loud construction going on just outside her classroom, where a new office building was going up in the parking lot the Corcoran had sold. By the time she left, she’d already started the activist group Save the Corcoran, which in recent months has mounted a campaign against the division of the Corcoran between the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.
This April, Lynn Sures, chair of the Corcoran’s fine arts department, asked McLellan to return to teach the class in September. McLellan agreed, hoping there’d be new leadership by the time classes began. Sures included McLellan on a group email to all adjunct professors last week, asking if they’d received their contracts. McLellan, who also received an email containing professor orientation materials, responded that she hadn’t.
According to McLellan, Sures informed her last Thursday that her contract wasn’t going through and that her class had been canceled on the orders of Corcoran Director and President Peggy Loar. Loar directed my request for comment to Mimi Carter, the Corcoran’s vice president of communications and marketing, who told me that she wouldn’t comment on individual personnel issues. Sures didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
“No one can remember this ever happening, when a museum director overrides the faculty chair and pulls out of the contract of one of her hires,” McLellan says. “Faculty members are angry. People are writing city Council and writing trustees.”
In keeping with faculty protocol, McLellan says her only recourse is to appeal to the Corcoran’s in-house counsel, David Julyan, and Loar—-both of whom she wrote asking for an explanation by this Friday. McLellan says that all other adjunct fine arts faculty received their contracts last week, and the fall semester is going ahead as scheduled. GW’s provost has promised that, if and when GW takes over the Corcoran’s college, it will hire 125 of the school’s full- and part-time professors. Whether the National Gallery and GW get to divvy up the Corcoran depends on a D.C. judge’s approval of a cy-près petition to amend the Corcoran’s charter; he’ll issue a ruling later this month.
Why was McLellan’s contract killed at the 11th hour? “Because of my activism,” she says. “Why else? I’m perfectly qualified. I teach the class at MICA; I’ve taught it at AU and St. Mary’s. I’ve taught lectures and seminars and workshops for 18 years, and only ever had stellar evaluations from students. They have no reason [to terminate me].”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery