Where could so much money come from?
Shanahan, a Washington office worker from northern Maryland, had become a member of the Corcoran earlier in the year. When he heard news of the possible move, he said, he bumped up his membership from “supporting” ($160) to “contributing” ($500), to help the Corcoran stay put — though he was never solicited by the Corcoran.
On the day of the forum, Shanahan did receive a fundraising appeal — from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he had also been a member.
“Why am I not getting the same e-mail from the Corcoran?” Shanahan asked himself. “Why don't they ask every member to upgrade their membership one level?”
The Corcoran’s woes are deep, complicated and decades old, but Shanahan’s experience distills the essence of the problem: At critical moments, the gallery has repeatedly failed to make its own best case to even its best friends.
Unable to present a consistently clear pitch for itself, the Corcoran has made it too easy for major donors to drift to more predictable — and prestigious — art charities, such as the Smithsonian and the National Gallery.
Now, with the Corcoran’s annual fundraising, membership and attendance at their lowest ebb in decades, it’s not just the $500 givers who have felt curiously ignored.
“I haven’t gotten a phone call from anyone at the Corcoran in five years,” said Tony Podesta, a lobbyist who, with his wife, Heather, is a leading art collector. He estimates that the couple has donated 150 works to the Corcoran over the years. “We still occasionally give them works of art, although it’s a little bit nerve-racking not to know what the future holds.”
“Years ago, we went to the Corcoran Ball,” the gallery’s key annual fundraiser, said Wayne Reynolds, former chairman of Ford’s Theatre and husband of millionaire philanthropist Catherine Reynolds. “I’ve never been asked back that I know of. I haven’t really been approached [for a contribution]. It’s not really on my radar screen.”
One arts patron with millions to dispose of said, “I haven’t been asked to give.” And, when the patron’s organization has rented the Corcoran for elegant gatherings, unlike at other venues that take the opportunity to market themselves, “I’ve never met anybody from the Corcoran. Nobody is there to tell me how great they are. I don’t think they’re really in fundraising mode.”