Corcoran discontinues decorative arts and design history program – The GW Hatchet


The Corcoran School of Arts and Design will close its master’s program in Decorative Arts and Design History at the end of 2022 after its fifth year at GW.

Trustees said they found limited demand for the master’s degree after assessing the University’s current “areas of interest and distinction” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said the master’s degree, which is Free thanks to a collaboration with the Smithsonian Associates – the world’s largest museum education program – allowed students to develop expertise in the history of artefacts and cultural collections from around the world while being offered at GW.

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said officials decided to shut down the program after the assessment and announced the decision to students, faculty and officials at Corcoran this summer.

“GW made the difficult decision to terminate the program after close scrutiny, reluctantly concluding that the long-term sustainability of this program was not achievable, she said in an email.

The MA in Decorative Arts and Design History program started at Corcoran in 2004, when the school was independent from the University before partnering with Smithsonian Associates and moving to George Mason University in 2012. The program returned to Corcoran at GW in 2017.

The Smithsonian Partnership provided students have the option of taking courses at the Smithsonian while still allowing them privileged access to the Smithsonian’s collections for study and research, according to the Corcoran website.

Nosal said the program has enrolled around 15 to 20 students each semester for the past few years, with around six new students per year since the program returned to GW from GMU. She said five to six professors have taught the program each year with four to five instructors per semester, including curators and professionals from the district museums.

She said Corcoran faculty met with current students this summer to discuss outstanding graduation requirements to ensure they graduate as planned.

“We understand the distress this can cause in the community of alumni, students, supporters and faculty who are passionate advocates for the degree,” Nosal said. “While this is not a welcome outcome, it is a necessary outcome that does not reflect their individual and collective personal and professional achievements.”

Kym Rice, deputy director of Corcoran, said students who do internships and study at various Smithsonian museums and faculty members of the institution’s staff and faculty will continue the school’s relationship with the Smithsonian despite the program closure.

“We are very grateful for the dedication of the program faculty who have taught the program so well and mentored its graduate students since the founding of the program,” said Rice.

Rice also shared a statement she received from Frederica Adelman, the director of Smithsonian Associates, regarding the shutdown of the program.

“Our long partnership with the Corcoran continues and we will share access to Smithsonian resources and a wide range of educational experiences with its students,” said Adelman.

Professors in the program said they were sad to see a decades-long program come to an end, but they are “proud” of all the students past and present and their accomplishments with the help of the program.

Erin Kuykendall, visiting assistant professor and director of graduate studies in decorative arts and design history, said the program teaches and prepares students for careers as curators, scholars and historians of decorative arts and history of design. She said the program obligatory students intern at museums like the National Museum of Women’s Arts, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of American History for a hands-on experience.

She said recent graduates of the program have “immediately” got jobs at major museums, like the Bible Museum, or have advanced to doctoral programs, like American Studies at the College of William and Mary.

“It was so gratifying to see each cohort mature and learn so much during their short stay at GW,” Kuykendal said in an email. “I know my predecessors and fellow faculty members remain incredibly proud of all of our alumni, including those who graduated from the program’s partnership with George Mason University and the Corcoran College of Art and Design.”

Oscar Fitzgerald, Associate Lecturer in Decorative Arts and Design History, said he was “shocked” by the discontinuation of the program because he has taught courses in the program since its first iteration at Parsons School in the 1990s. He said the program attracted as many as 80 to 90 students per year to other institutions before arriving at GW.

He said enrollment in the program had plummeted in recent years, in part because the university had failed to “emphasize” enough the connection with the Smithsonian.

“It was very clear that the reason it closed is that enrollment has gone down, and it’s just not sustainable for 10 or 20 students,” he said. “When there were 90 students, it was very dynamic.”

Jeff Hardwick, assistant lecturer in decorative arts and design history, said the program struggled to attract students after arriving at GW compared to his time at GMU, where he also taught. He said he couldn’t teach the courses he offered in the last two years under the program, like Museums in the Digital Age, because there weren’t enough students enrolled.

“It was a very successful program for a while, and I think enrollment and other factors ended up causing it to sink,” said Hardwick.

Hardwick, who began teaching with the program in the early 2000s and previously worked for the Smithsonian, said he was disappointed to see the degree end as he enjoys teaching the subject outside of his full-time job in as Deputy Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities – a federal agency supporting research and education in the humanities.

“It’s a real loss, I think, because it’s a pretty unique program,” he said. “There are only a few other programs in the United States like this. It was a real niche.


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