Judge hears arguments on Corcoran Gallery merger

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 6, 2014 at 4:26 pm •  Published: August 6, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — After years of financial and management trouble, the fate of one of the nation's oldest museums and one of the few independent art galleries in Washington is now in the hands of a judge.

Attorneys made closing arguments Wednesday in a court case to determine the future of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its college after presenting evidence for six days.

Trustees of the gallery are seeking to merge the museum and college into George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art, effectively dissolving one of the nation's oldest museums and handing over its $2 billion in assets. A group of students and faculty have fought the merger in court, arguing there are ways to save the Corcoran.

Witnesses have described a broken fundraising operation, struggling leadership and setbacks from the nation's financial crisis that hobbled the Corcoran in a competitive city full of government-funded museums that offer free admission.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Robert Okun is expected to decide the Corcoran's fate before the new academic year begins later this month at the Corcoran college. The judge must decide whether it's "impossible or impracticable" to continue the 1869 deed of trust that established the museum and whether the merger is the best alternative.

Two high-power law firms have argued the case without charge. The Paul Hastings firm represented the Corcoran trustees, and Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher represented the opposition.

Corcoran attorney Charles Patrizia said the trustees had no choice but to seek support from larger institutions to preserve the art, galleries and college, citing $28 million in cumulative deficits since 2008 and 40 years of struggles.

"Now there will be stronger support, stronger exhibits," he said. "The college will continue with a stronger base educationally, financially and structurally."

If the merger is not approved, Patrizia said, the museum and college would likely lose their accreditations because finances are dwindling, and students would become ineligible for federal aid. There is no time to pursue alternatives, he said.

Under the Corcoran trustees' plan, most of the 17,000 artworks would be given to the National Gallery of Art, which would run exhibit programs. Most of the building would be devoted to the art school as part of George Washington University. The Corcoran would give the university at least $35 million from recently sold art to fund initial renovations, and the university would fund further renovations.

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