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Opponents offer 2 alternatives to Corcoran breakup

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm •  Published: July 31, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Opponents of a plan to break up Washington's nearly 150-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art presented two alternatives in court this week to preserve the independent museum and art school as a judge considers its proposed merger with two larger institutions.

The University of Maryland president and a leading Washington philanthropist described their past discussions with the Corcoran board about reinvigorating the financially struggling museum and college. They expressed willingness to restart talks to turn it around.

The Corcoran board, however, struck a deal this year to merge the art college into George Washington University and give the bulk of 17,000 artworks to the National Gallery of Art. The Corcoran's assets are estimated at $2 billion. The proposed merger has drawn attention because the Corcoran is one of the few independent art galleries in a city full of government-funded museums.

A judge must decide whether it's "impossible or impractical" to continue the Corcoran's 1869 deed of trust that established the museum and whether the merger proposal is the best alternative. Hearings will continue next week.

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said he had no plans to intervene after his negotiations for a Corcoran partnership failed. But he testified he would be willing to make another proposal within 45 days that would maintain the Corcoran's independence. The university was prepared to invest $46 million for operations and renovation costs, and the Corcoran would become an affiliated professional art school.

Loh said he's trying to lift the arts within a major research university and could help the Corcoran recruit more students.

"The whole idea is to keep the gallery and the college together. It is the combining of culture and education that makes it so special," Loh said. "We don't want a takeover. We already have a liberal arts program."

Wayne Reynolds, a leading Washington philanthropist, also laid out an alternative. He previously led a $54 million campaign to turn around Ford's Theatre and said he sees similar potential in the museum next to the White House that was founded by William W. Corcoran as a place to "encourage American genius." Reynolds said he could marshal dozens of major donors to save the Corcoran and make it a world-class center for creativity in art and technology.

"People want to be part of something that's special, that's bigger than themselves," Reynolds said, later mentioning 23 potential alternate trustees who he said would help him turn the Corcoran around. "It's all about vision and leadership."

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