The Corcoran is running the white flag about halfway up the flagpole. With today’s announcement, the Corcoran is in effect saying, “If we can’t get government help, the Gehry addition is dead.”
In case you missed it, today the Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal (thanks AJ) reported that the Corcoran has asked the District of Columbia for $40 million in the form of a loan that would be paid back out of property tax and sales tax revenue from downtown businesses. Anthony Williams, DC’s mayor, supports the plan.
The request is as close to a tacit admission as the Corcoran will make that its Gehry plan is in dire trouble, that it is having major problems raising the necessary funds to build the new wing. It is no sure thing that the DC City Council will go along with the mayor’s plan.
Especially interesting here is the way the project would be funded and what it says about the recent present and possible future of the Corcoran. The $40 million in funding would be “repaid” to the city in the form of expected increased sales tax revenue and expected increased property tax revenue from businesses within one mile of the Corcoran. In effect, the plan anticipates that an expanded Corcoran will bring more money-spending folks to the area around the Corcoran, and the money those folks spend will, over time, pay off the $40M.
First off, it’s a heckuvan assumption that the Gehry in and of itself will draw more people to the Corcoran and that those people will spend that much money in the area and that property taxes will go up as a result. The plan expresses remarkable faith in destination architecture.
The plan, if implemented, would also put pressure on the Corcoran to schedule shows that bring in visitors. Unfortunately, this is not likely to be a problem for the Corcoran, an institution that has repeatedly shown that its credibility as an art museum is of secondary importance. Over and over again the Corcoran has scheduled exhibits designed for just one purpose: to turn the turnstiles. (Think J. Seward Johnson, Judith Leiber and the dresses of a certain First Lady.) If the city buys into the $40M plan, I think we could safely assume that the quality and merit of exhibits at the Corcoran will continue to decline. If that’s not reason enough to oppose the governmental handout, what is?