Broken Art: The Closing Of A Washington Museum

October 4, 2014

Recently the Corcoran Gallery of Art in downtown Washington – just across the street from the White House — closed its doors.

After 145 years, the venerable museum will be blended in – like paint – with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, two institutions that are more financially sound. The Washington Post reports that the National Gallery will take control of the Corcoran’s 17,000 works of art and the university will oversee the Corcoran’s College of Art + Design.

NPR asked Caroline Lacey, a photojournalism student at the Corcoran, to tell us what the closing felt like:

“A small crowd gathered in the atrium of the building during its last hour to say farewell,” Caroline says. “It was a little bit after 5 o’clock, the museum’s usual closing time, when the guards began instructing everyone to leave. The group didn’t budge. Curators, museum staff, students, faculty and alumni all started looking to each other for permission to ignore the instructions. Out of the middle of the unsure crowd came a slow and steady clapping, which quickly worked its way into a roaring and tearful cheer.”

Eventually “the massive front doors shut with a familiar boom … followed by very unfamiliar gasps…

“There are no guidelines on how to mourn a museum, no rituals to lean on while you’re watching the thing fall apart. Reactions throughout the community were varied; there was a funeral service with a hearse and bagpipes, some joined hands to wrap the building facade in a giant hug, some preferred to keep their distance and others just felt the need to be together.”

As part of a group that fought to keep the Corcoran gallery and college independent, Caroline says, “I haven’t known exactly how to react. So I’m trying to save it in a different way now, by capturing its last images.”

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The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

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