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Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art financial records

 Record Group
Identifier: COR0004.0-RG

Scope and Contents

The Finance Records document well the financial activities and concerns of the Corcoran Gallery, the condition of the museum's finances throughout its history, and the various changes in procedures and policies concerning financial matters.

Materials which contain information on Corcoran finances in the 19th century are often in ledger form. These include a general ledger on Gallery Finances as well as journals which record specific information on investments, rents, and real estate. The Endowment Fund, the Gallery and School Contingency Funds, the Corcoran bank account, the new Gallery Account (17th & N.Y. Ave.), disbursements, and door receipts. The ledgers also include one letterpress copybook of correspondence and finance reports of Gallery Treasurer Charles Glover from 1894- 1921.

Other records from this period include several legal documents, such as the W.W. Corcoran deed of the Gallery to the Trustees, and various materials associated with the fow1ding and early years of the Gallery. Also from the 19th century are a few miscellaneous receipts and disbursements, including one Corcoran Gallery checks from the 19th century, and real estate materials concerning the sale or rental of various Gallery-owned properties.

Records on Gallery finances from the turn of the century until the beginning of the Depression in 1929-30 are similar content to materials for earlier years. However, the volume of information increases significantly during this period, especially materials concerning real estate transactions and receipts & disbursements. The information recorded in ledgers and journals remains much the same as for earlier years, although in 1906 the Gallery began to record exhibition expenses data for the first time. Researchers should continue to investigate Trustees records for a full account of Gallery finances during this period.

Finance records from the 1930s to post WWII are more numerous and of a wider variety than for previous years. A number of new types of records appear in the 1930s, including Trustee finance records (Treasurer's reports, Finance & Investment Committee records, and Treasurer's correspondence & memoranda), annual budgets for the Gallery and School, auditor's annual reports, insurance and pension information, tax records, and bequest files. In addition, a substantial amount of receipt & disbursement files as well as real estate & investment records appear. The finance ledgers continue to record information similar to that for previous years with two noteworthy additions: a "War Emergency Account" Ledger (1941-45), and one "Payroll Tax Record" Journal (1943-49). Annual Reports and Trustee files remain useful records for finance information from this 1930s and 1940s period.

Director's correspondence and Registrar's bequest files are also potential sources of finance information. Finance records from the early 1950s to the present provide the most complete and varied account of the Gallery's financial affairs. The bulk of records such as budgets, auditor's reports, insurance materials, taxes, and Trustee finance records occur during this time. In addition, the Art Rental & Gift Shop finance files Grant & Grant Proposal materials, and Personnel records, all make their appearance for the first time during these years. Financial journals also record some types of information with greater frequency such as payroll and earnings and deductions. Other new or more frequently recorded information beginning in the 1950s includes check registers, general operations ledgers, and ledgers on the separate or "Special Fund" accounts. From the 1960s to the present miscellaneous Comptrollers/Director of Finance & Planning subject files are evident.


  • Creation: 1872-1989


Conditions Governing Access

The records in this collection are closed for 50 years from date of record creation.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that the institution owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in its works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U.S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information. For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.

Historical narrative

The first section of this history, covering events through 1981, was prepared by Corcoran Archivist Katherine M. Kovocs for publication in 1985 with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For a large part of the Corcoran's history, the financial affairs of the Gallery were administered by the Treasurer of the Board of Trustees. The Treasurer saw to the maintenance of income and expense records, handled the Gallery's investment activities, and submitted the annual budget for Board approval. The Treasurer was traditionally a senior member of a banking or investment firm. Most have been affiliated with the Riggs National funk whose co-founder, George Riggs, was one of the original Corcoran Gallery trustees and its first Treasurer. The financial concerns of the Gallery in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused primarily on various real estate notes assumed by the Corcoran as well as the leasing/rental of Gallery-owned property. The Treasurer shared in carrying out these duties with the Trustees' Committee on Accounts (which "authored" the annual budget) and the Committee on Finance and Investment, which was chaired by the Treasurer. There was no known staff member assigned to perform these financial tasks at that time.

During the Depression years the Gallery experienced some financial setbacks and changes in its accounting procedures. By 1930 the Corcoran was the recipient of funds other than the original W.W. Corcoran endowment fund and, subsequently, the Treasurer established an accounting system organized by fund: the Gallery Endowment Fund, Clark Additional Maintenance Fund, Art School Fund, W.A. Clark Fund, Anna E. Clark Fund, and Mary E. Maxwell Fund. The Trustee Committee on Accounts was abolished and professional auditors brought in to monitor finances. Finally the Corcoran staff experienced a 5-10% salary decrease beginning in 1933 to maintain a balanced budget.

The 1940s decade saw numerous changes in the Corcoran's financial affairs. The establishment of the Comptroller's position in 1940 and the Assistant Treasurer's post in 1944 was a result of the increasingly complex nature of the Gallery's finances. Both posts were created to assist the Treasurer in maintaining the Gallery's income and expense and investment accounts. Additional finance staff and procedural changes were initiated in 1948. The Comptroller's position was eliminated (but was reinstated in 1957); and the "Gallery Contingent Fund”, a bank account accessible to the Corcoran director to pay miscellaneous bills and expenses, was abolished. The Assistant Treasurer, under the Treasurer's supervision, paid all expenses. And finally, the Assistant Treasurer became a full-time staff member and was responsible for establishing; "a modern set of books and plac(ing) all funds under control of the Treasurer, covering both operating and principal (capital) accounts" (Trustee minutes 10/1/1948). All these efforts reflect various attempts to modernize the Gallery's organizational structure and recordkeeping procedures. The late 1960s to early 1970s proved to be difficult years from the Corcoran financially. One important change in the finance recordkeeping process was the 1967 decision by the Trustees, on recommendation from the Treasurer, to band the various endowment fund accounts together into one fund. The "Consolidates Endowment Fund" pooled all endowment resources into one account and, therefore, simplified the recordkeeping process for these funds.

This 1968-1974 period also saw the Gallery (and the School) burdened with a large deficit for the first time in its history. Concern over deficit budgets mounted, especially when endowment funds began to be used to meet expenses. Such actions established a dangerous precedent in many minds. This period also saw many changes in the composition of the Board of Trustees and the Gallery staff: changes which were accompanied by frequent alterations in staff and trustees responsibilities for the financial affairs of the Gallery. Two trustee committees were established to administer Corcoran finances: the Finance Committee and the Investment Committee. Membership on each was increased from the customary 3 or 4 Trustees to include, at some points in time, up to ten people. A third committee created at this time, the Operations Committee, was in charge of the entire operation of the Gallery and School. The Committee focused, however, on establishing administrative efficiency and fiscal soundness at the Corcoran and devoted much of its time to the deficit budgets and fundraising. And finally, the full Board of Trustees involved itself more deeply in the financial affairs of the Gallery than ever before, its participation brought on by the chronically large deficit budgets.

Administrative staff changes also occurred during this period. Between 1968 and 1972 new positions such as Executive Vice-President, Vice-President for Management, Director of Development and Planning and Chief Executive Officer were created to gain effective control over expenses and to increase income. By 1969 the Gallery budget, once the almost exclusive responsibility of the Treasurer and Director, was produced collectively by various senior staffers. Organizational changes removed the Treasurer from active participation in the Gallery/School budget process for the first time in the history of the Gallery. In this new capacity, the Treasurer focused in the Endowment Fund and the general investment practices of the Corcoran. By the early 1970s the Gallery's administrative staff had assumed full responsibility for creating the annual budget as well as maintaining all financial records.

In recent years the financial tasks performed by both the administrative staff and the Trustees have become more defined and systematic. The Board created an Audit Committee in the late 1970s, composed of four to five Finance and Investment Committee members, to oversee the annual auditing process. This is in addition to the Trustees' customary responsibility for monitoring and approving all financial concerns and major activities of the Corcoran. The Finance Office sees to the daily operation of the Gallery's financial affairs and plays an important role in the budget process, along with the Director, Dean, and the various Gallery department heads. The office staff has grown in recent years with the increase in the variety and volume of that office's activities.

The following section of this history was prepared in 2019 by George Washington University SCRC staff with the support of the Luce Foundation.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Corcoran began exploring development options for the adjacent New York Avenue plot in order to generate revenue. Initial plans involved leasing the land in order for an office building to be constructed, and then shifted towards the creation of an expansion to the Corcoran building that would increase gallery space and allow for greater expansion of the Corcoran School of Art. From this point, the School and the revenue generated by tuition would begin to take on greater importance in the Gallery’s budget.

Following the contentious canceling of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition “The Perfect Moment” in 1989, the Corcoran’s finances suffered as a result of decreased membership, visitation, and donations, leading to a $1.2 Million shortfall in their budget in 1990. Increased spending from the Endowment put its sustainability into question. Also beginning in the 1990s, persistent building maintenance issues would create financial pitfalls for the Corcoran that would create long-lasting obstacles to a fully-balanced budget.

Following the appointment of David C. Levy as President and Director in November 1990, the Corcoran began to take steps to stabilize their finances. The Gallery shifted towards a more conservative expense-based budget, and made successful calls for the Board of Trustees to increase their involvement and monetary support. A Five-Year Plan was created in 1993 that focused heavily on fiscal conservancy and increasing the capacity of the Corcoran School of Art, while acknowledging the need to stabilize the Gallery’s financial base.

In 1994, the Corcoran adjusted the formula for determining spendable return on the endowment fund to 4.8%. While this increased the endowment fund, the Gallery faced several up-and-down years as adjustments to budget and finance addressed problems, and new issues or shortfalls arose in turn.

As part of an effort to secure more stable funding, the Gallery’s attention shifted towards the construction of an expansion to the main Corcoran Building, to be known as the Gehry Expansion. The expansion would house more Gallery space, as well as expanding the facilities for the Corcoran School of Art, allowing for larger enrollment numbers. Announced in 1999, the majority of the cost was to be covered by a major fundraising effort called the Capital Campaign.

In 2005, the Corcoran Board of Trustees announced that plans for the Gehry expansion would be shelved indefinitely due to the inability to fully raise the funds needed. Following this decision, the Corcoran continued to focus on the school as a revenue factor, but faced an increasing deficit and concerns over the sustainability of the institution. In 2010, the Corcoran began to sell or plan to sell their remaining properties, including the Randall School, Fillmore School, and 1700 New York Avenue. Annual financial audits revealed continued net losses for the Gallery.

By November 2011, the Corcoran had conducted six Development Studies that each indicated the need to raise a large amount of money, but did not offer concrete solutions. Concerns were expressed about increased spending from the endowment.

In January 2012, the Board of Directors determined that the only financially viable options were for the Gallery to sell the Flagg building and move or to explore a viable partnership with another museum or college. During this time the Gallery faced continued trouble with fundraising. Several exhibition were placed on hold and tuition for the College was raised while the Gallery attempted to build a sustainable financial plan.

The Board had also been borrowing money from endowment and deaccessioning funds during this period, authorizing the spending of up to $1.5 million until September 30, 2012 with the intention that the funds would be restored from the proceeds of the 1700 New York Avenue real estate transaction. By March of 2012, the Corcoran was exploring the option of selling pieces of the collection.

In 2013, the Gallery announced that the Corcoran would be partnering with the University of Maryland to preserve the Corcoran and to extend the University of Maryland’s presence in D.C. However, In 2014, The Corcoran unexpectedly announced that they would not be partnering with the University of Maryland, and instead would be dissolved and split between the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. Under this agreement, the National Gallery of Art would be given the majority of the Corcoran’s collection, and George Washington University would take over the Corcoran College of Art + Design and the Corcoran’s Flagg building on 17th Street.


51 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Finance Records document the financial activities and concerns of the Corcoran Gallery, the condition of the museum's finances throughout its history, and the various changes in procedures and policies concerning financial matters. The records in this record group date from 1872 to 1989.


Organized into 15 processed series: Ledgers/journals/bound volumes; Deeds and legal documents; Trustee finance records; Gallery and school budgets; Auditor's reports; Investment and real estate records; Insurance/pensions/benefits; Taxes; Receipts & disbursements; Bequests; Exhibition expenses; Art rental and gift shop; Grants and grant proposals; Miscellaneous subjects; and Personnel office records. Series 16 is unprocessed records.

Location note

Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Custodial History

The Finance Records of the Corcoran Gallery of Art were transferred to the Corcoran Archives from the Finance Office, the Administrative Officer/Manager of Administrative Services, and various storage areas beginning in 1980.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Corcoran Institution Board of Trustees donated these records to The George Washington University in 2016.

Statement on Retention & Disposal of Finance Records

During its time of operation, the Corcoran Archives at the Corcoran Gallery of Art adhered to the following policy:

Those Finance Records which demonstrate an enduring administrative, evidential, or information/historical value are retained permanently in the Corcoran Archives. The Archives follows closely the schedule for records retention suggested by the firm of Coopers & Lybrand in determining the usefulness in and legal obligations for retaining financial materials. Most records require a retention period between 3-7 years after the end of a fiscal year. The Archives schedules financial items for destruction after careful review and oftentimes, after final consultation with the Finance Office. The retention and disposal schedule is located in the case file. A portion of the finance materials which could have been destroyed according to established practices and schedules nevertheless have been retained. These are records which maintain an historic worth because of their contents, format, or uniqueness. Materials such as William MacLeod's first paycheck as the Corcoran's Curator in 1872 or the receipts for architect Charles Platt's work on the Gallery's Clark Wing typify those older finance materials which the Archives assessed as having historic value and which were retained.

Related Archival Materials

For a complete review of financial records for the 19th century in the Archives, researchers should also consult the Trustee Records (RG 1.0) for various treasurer's reports, budget statements, Finance Committee reports, and annual reports on the Gallery, and the Building & Grounds Records(RG 7.0) for further information on the finances involved in the construction of the new Gallery in the 1890s.

Other archival records contain materials concerning the finances of the Corcoran and should be investigated. The Trustee Records (RG 1.0) include many records of the Finance & Investment Committee, especially reports, and the Committee on Accounts. The Director's Records (RG 2.0), especially the subject files of directors from the late 1960s to the present, often contain materials pertinent to the Gallery's finances. The Curatorial/Registrar's Files (RG 5.0 and RG 5.1) include materials in addition to those on exhibitions, fine arts insurance and requests found in the Finance Records. Development/Membership Records (RG 3.2) should be referred to when investigating the Gallery's past grants and grant proposals. Additional information on personnel and faculty benefits may be found in the Corcoran School of Art Records concerning its faculty (RG 9.0).

Separated Materials

During initial processing by the Corcoran Archives, the following materials were removed from the Finance Records: transparencies of Joan of Arc Tapestries, C&O Canal papers, Confederate States of America seal, H.W. Williams art notes, Clark Additional Maintainence Fund Reports, Conservator's contracts/agreements, School files of G. Goffe, Development/Membership reports, Attendance/Admission Reports.

Guide to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art financial records, 1872-1988
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

George Washington University Gelman Library
2130 H Street NW
Washington DC 20052 United States of America