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Corcoran Archives Open to a Queue of Ready Researchers

Provost Forrest Maltzman, Sanjit Sethi, director of the Corcoran School of the Arts + Design, and members of the Corcoran Board of Trustees and Women’s Committee view selections from the newly opened archives.

Preserving the history of Washington, D.C., through documents, photographs, and other archival materials is one of the major undertakings of the GW Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. Last spring, we became the permanent home for the historical archives of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Documenting the life and vitality of one of Washington, D.C.’s oldest cultural heritage institutions, the Corcoran Archives provide almost 150 years of insight into the history of American art museums and art education. These extraordinary archives, consisting of almost 2,000 boxes of documents, plus thousands of architectural drawings, posters, photographs, ad oversized ledgers, dating from 1869 to 2014, that have been closed to researchers for much of the past decade.

The collection arrived to immediate attention. Within days of opening to the public for research, the Special Collections Research Center received a slew of requests for access and reference questions.

“We are honored to be selected as the permanent archival home of the historical archives of this landmark D.C. institution,” said Elisabeth Kaplan, associate university librarian. “This is a major acquisition of a collection of national significance for anyone studying museum history, American art history, the history of art education, and social movements in American art, as well as those interested in particular artists and trends in American museums.”

Research inquiries so far have included requests for information about past Corcoran exhibitions, the provenance of specific works of art, and specific questions about Corcoran history. Researchers are also interested in particular historical moments, such as the planned and later canceled 1989 Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, which sparked a national conversation on public funding of cultural heritage institutions.

To increase access, a small sampling of materials from the collection have been digitized and are now available online. These materials include historical photographs, the earliest registers of paintings acquired, the first curator’s journals, and architectural drawings, enabling local and international researchers to make use of these important materials.

To help preserve the legacy of the Corcoran and make these materials available to researchers around the globe, please contact Tracy Sullivan, executive director of development for GW Libraries and Academic Innovation. 


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