Museums USA

Corcoran merger under spotlight

Group files complaint against plan to combine three institutions in Washington, DC, to be scrutinised

The Corcoran Gallery of Art

A group of students, faculty, donors and alumni of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design has filed a complaint to block the institution’s planned merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. The collective, called Save the Corcoran, says that the deal would “destroy the Corcoran forever”.

The complaint comes as the Corcoran is preparing to present its case for the merger to a superior court in Washington, DC, on 18 July. The trustees must prove that the proposed three-way marriage is the best way to solve the institution’s financial problems, despite the fact that it technically violates the organisation’s federal charter. The Attorney General of Washington, DC, is to represent the public at the hearing and is soliciting comments on the plan until 15 July. Without the judge’s approval, the merger cannot proceed.

The trustees will lay out the Corcoran’s dire financial position in a petition to the court. In recent decades, the museum has dipped into its endowment in order to remain operational, but “deferred some major expenses”, including much-needed repairs on its Beaux Arts building. Under the proposed agreement, the Corcoran will transfer a substantial portion of its collection to the National Gallery (the rest will be distributed to other museums). George Washington University will take over management of the fine arts college and its two buildings.

The Friends of the Corcoran, however, attribute the institution’s downward spiral to trustee mismanagement. They request a third party review of the Corcoran’s finances and argue that the entire board should be replaced. “The complaint requests that the court not reward the trustees with… relief if their own unlawful actions have precipitated the Corcoran’s demise,” says Jayme McClellan, a member of Save the Corcoran, in a statement. A spokeswoman for the Corcoran declined to comment.

While the Corcoran fights to dissolve itself, another area institution is growing. The American University Museum received a $1.5m gift from the philanthropist Carolyn Alper to expand its focus on Washington artists, reports the Washington City Paper. The funds will help the institution digitise its DC-related holdings and acquire historic works by artists from the nation’s capital. As the Washington City Paper notes, the development also makes the museum an appealing home for works by local artists from the Corcoran’s collection that are not absorbed by the National Gallery—assuming the deal goes through.

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