The Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design announced a whole bunch of news today, including one new hire and one new partnership—-and not the partnership that museum-watchers were expecting.

Corcoran board chair Harry Hopper III announced that the Corcoran has hired a new “consulting director”: Peggy Loar. She is the founding director of Miami’s Wolfsonian Museum and the recent director of the National Museum of Qatar. This decision would appear to end the search for a new director initiated last June, though it’s unclear what the “consulting” qualification in her title entails.

The Corcoran also announced a deal with the National Gallery of Art to show modern and contemporary exhibitions at the Corcoran as the National Gallery’s East Wing undergoes a renovation. As recently as March 13, the National Gallery was in similar talks with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, another beleaguered museum, that would involve the National Gallery lending museum exhibition support to MOCA. Now it seems that the National Gallery is focusing locally. The East Wing will be closed for three years as it undergoes renovation beginning in 2014.

Many were awaiting news of a partnership between the Corcoran and the University of Maryland. But that announcement fell somewhat short of a full-on agreement. Instead, the Corcoran and the University of Maryland announced a “Memorandum of Understanding,” which outlines a nonbinding agreement between the institutions to continue talks about a partnership. It’s not a done deal. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh sent a letter to students and faculty at Maryland confirming the details of the agreement to continue talks. The letter notes that the Memorandum of Understanding has the approval of Maryland’s board of trustees.

Hopper’s release further describes a “Strategic Framework for a New Corcoran” outlining guidelines for potential partnerships and donors. The Strategic Framework pledges that the Corcoran will revive the Corcoran Biennial—-last held in 2005—-and expand the scope of the college beyond the Corcoran’s walls.

The University of Maryland has not yet responded with a comment. Full text of both releases is below.

Dear Corcoran Staff and Faculty:

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I take great pleasure in sharing with you the news of an integral group of decisions approved at the board meeting today. Together, these decisions move us forward dramatically toward a sustainable future for both the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

First, we have approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Maryland to explore a potential partnership.

The University of Maryland has strong art and art history programs that offer BA, MFA and PhD degrees and is prominent in fields including architecture, education, engineering and the performing arts, which integrates well with the Corcoran’s expertise in art and design. The combined and complementary strengths of our two institutions could lead to transformative excellence in education, scholarship, and exhibitions, for the national capital region and beyond.

Some points to remember about this potential agreement:

The Gallery and the College will continue as parts of an integrated whole.
The Corcoran Gallery will remain in the iconic Flagg Building and its additions, and the College will remain in Washington, D.C.
The Corcoran identity and brand will be preserved.
College graduates will continue to receive a Corcoran degree.

Second, we have completed an agreement of unprecedented scope with the National Gallery of Art, under which the Corcoran will exhibit works of modern and contemporary art from the National Gallery’s collection during the three-year period when the East Wing is under renovation.

Third, we have appointed museologist Peggy Loar as Consulting Director of the Corcoran. Ms. Loar brings exceptional skills and experience to this position, having served as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Series, the first program director of the Institute of Museum Services, the founding director of the Wolfsonian Museum and Research Center and, most recently, the director of the National Museum of Qatar. She will assist us in navigating the next stage of the Corcoran’s future, managing our collaborative discussions with UMD, and executing our exciting exhibition schedule, including the co-operative exhibitions with the National Gallery of Art.

Fred Bollerer, who has so ably steered this institution through a period of financial risk, and who graciously extended his contract with the Corcoran at the board’s request, twice deferring his planned retirement, has kindly agreed to assist the transition as Peggy Loar moves into her new role.

Finally, we have adopted a Strategic Framework for a New Corcoran, developed by the Corcoran’s board on the basis of our thorough, in-depth research and senior staff deliberations. The Strategic Framework will be the guide for partner institutions (including the University of Maryland), potential donors, and our own staff leadership as we realize the future of the Corcoran.

We now will move ahead confidently with the active help of our institutional partners, donors, members, faculty, and staff as we implement the Strategic Framework. This document sets goals that can be achieved on the basis of the Corcoran’s existing strengths, as the only institution in the national capital region that is both a museum and a college. It calls for the Corcoran to:

focus on Contemporary Art, American Art, and Design;
build on a recognized commitment to community engagement; and
develop an ability to address the cultural, social, economic, and political issues of our day.

Initiatives specified in the Strategic Framework include reviving the Corcoran Biennial with an emphasis on international artists dealing with Contemporary issues and ideas; concentrating on the collection of Contemporary Art, American Art; extending the impact of the College by partnering with a leading local university and increasing the Corcoran’s educational presence outside the institution’s walls; and working more broadly and deeply with partners in the Washington area to bring Contemporary art into political and social discussion and debate. The agreement with the University of Maryland advances the Corcoran toward many of these goals.

For the last two years, the Corcoran board has grappled with some very difficult tasks. Today, I am very pleased with the results of the work we have done together with you, and am proud of the accomplishments of the Board and this great institution. The Board looks forward to your thoughts, and to the engagement of the entire Corcoran community, as we move ahead.


Harry Hopper

Chairman, Board of Trustees

The letter from University of Maryland president Wallace Loh to Maryland students and faculty follows:

Dear University of Maryland community:

Today the University of Maryland signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its College of Art + Design to explore a potential partnership.

The Gallery has a renowned collection of 17,000 works of art valued at $2 billion, housed in an iconic Beaux Arts building a block from the White House. The College has 550 art students pursuing BFA and MA degrees. We have strong art and art history programs that offer BA, MFA, and PhD degrees. We are also prominent in fields that integrate with art and design, including architecture, business, education, engineering, journalism, liberal arts and sciences, and performing arts.

The combined and complementary strengths of our respective institutions could lead to transformative excellence in education, scholarship, and exhibitions in ways that would benefit our entire University, the region, and beyond.

Our strategic plan, Transforming Maryland, identifies the creative and performing arts as one of our four “institutional priorities.” It calls on us to “expand collaborations with museums and performing arts organizations” so that we become “a major contributor to the cultural life of the state and the region.” Today, we take a step to realize this vision.

A partnership with the Corcoran would provide our faculty and students with access to its world-class collection. We could develop together, for example, new courses, joint degrees, and innovation studios in product design and digital arts that involve interdisciplinary teams of artists, engineers, computer scientists, and entrepreneurs. We will gain a physical footprint in a historic landmark, magnifying our presence in the nation’s capital.

Some of our most prominent donors, for whom our colleges are named (Robert H. Smith School of Business, Philip Merrill College of Journalism) were Trustees of the Corcoran. Several Corcoran faculty and staff are our graduates. In fact, one of the dignitaries at the 1859 opening ceremony of the Maryland Agricultural College, as our University was then known, was a Washington philanthropist, William Corcoran, who went on to found the institution that now bears his name.

There are only a few universities in the country with such a partnership, none with a cultural organization as large as the Corcoran. For example, Johns Hopkins University formed a partnership with the Peabody Conservatory of Music some 35 years ago. UCLA and the Hammer Museum of Art entered into a partnership about a dozen years ago. Its exhibits are integrated with UCLA’s academic programs. USC is now in negotiations on a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents has endorsed our MOU with the Corcoran Trust. A copy is posted at We will now begin a period of due diligence and consultations with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends of the University to evaluate this opportunity. I have appointed a Task Force on Visual Arts and Design to assist this process, chaired by Provost Mary Ann Rankin. Members of the Task Force will be announced in the coming days.

This study process — and a determination of whether and how to move forward with the partnership — will be completed before the end of this summer. If an accord is reached, it would have to be reviewed and endorsed by our Board of Regents and by the Corcoran Board of Trustees.

This is a moment of remarkable possibility. In the coming weeks, we will be seeking your input and ideas. With your engagement, the University of Maryland will continue on its upward trajectory of creative excellence.


Wallace D. Loh
University of Maryland

Photo by Darrow Montgomery