Those who have raised concerns about the merger between GW and the Corcoran College of Art + Design see it as the big fish eating the smaller one with a broken fin. But in fact, the University is offering a dying institution a lifeline.
And while the University is opening its arms – and wallet – to the Corcoran, we shouldn’t measure the merger’s potential success by enrollment or rankings jumps, or even alumni donations or endowment growth.
The merger’s fortunes depend on how well GW can keep an artistic community together.
“It isn’t simply a building that stands by the White House. It’s the people who stand inside it,” Patrick Bagley, a senior photojournalism major at the Corcoran College, told me about his school.
GW has to make sure it improves the college – helping it organizationally and financially – while keeping its character intact.
It’s imperative that the Corcoran – its college, its collection and its community – moves seamlessly into responsible hands. University President Steven Knapp has said all the right things so far, but the next six weeks of negotiations will show the true nature of the deal.
GW should recognize its limitations as an institution in taking on the Corcoran College. We may be the big fish when it comes to real estate and research, but when it comes to the arts, the Corcoran is a whale. If we fail to recognize this, we could be not only consuming the college, but destroying its value.
An institution is nothing without its instructors, and this is where GW has been walking a thin line regarding the Corcoran’s community.
GW plans on keeping the Corcoran’s contract faculty next year, but their future beyond that is hazy. This seems to be the biggest concern among both faculty and students.
Though the college comes with plenty of lucrative financial holdings, the professors are the greatest assets that GW can take from the Corcoran. Leaving them in limbo creates a shaky foundation on which to build our new arts community.
The Corcoran may only have 554 students – miniscule in comparison to our 25,000 – but we only have about 80 undergraduates studying visual arts. Our program is far less developed than that of the Corcoran, which has been focusing on enriching the arts since the institution’s conception. Ours has seemed like an afterthought to the political science and international affairs – and lately, engineering – reign.
It is obvious that GW has far more to learn from the Corcoran’s arts program than they can from ours. The Corcoran has a history of pushing boundaries. GW can’t necessarily say the same.
Joey Mánlapaz, an associate professor at the Corcoran and a GW alumnus, told The Hatchet, “I don’t see what is being produced at GW’s art department as something that pushes the envelope. It’s not really challenging. Our students at the Corcoran are fearless, absolutely fearless.”
We can bring this fearless artistry to GW by maintaining the Corcoran’s degree programs, such as a bachelor’s of fine arts in graphic design, photojournalism and fine art photography. Their expertise will make us stronger.
The Corcoran, too, has cultivated its reputation as a local institution, creating exhibitions of local art and performing community outreach projects. Unfortunately, with the museum being absorbed by the National Gallery of Art, the array of local art exhibits may become a thing of the past.
GW can ensure that the community engagement projects continue, retaining that essential part of the Corcoran culture. For example, Corcoran ArtReach offers the college’s resources and instruction to underprivileged members of the community. Additionally, the college contributes to events such as Empty Bowls, where potters build and sell soup bowls and direct the proceeds towards feeding the homeless in D.C.
Maintaining programs like these help retain not only the college, but also its community and historic connection to the District.
Parts of the Corcoran College will be lost over the next few months of negotiations, and it is GW’s responsibility to retain as much of the college’s character as possible. We must consider the culture, the academic programs and, most of all, the professors.
Otherwise, all GW will take from the Corcoran is its name.
Jacob Garber, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.