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Corcoran Gallery's proposed merger goes to court

Created: 07/18/2014 1:52 PM KAALtv.com
By: BRETT ZONGKER

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for the Corcoran Gallery of Art will argue that delaying a planned merger of one of the nation's oldest museums with two larger institutions would force the museum to begin selling artworks to pay for its operations.

The Corcoran's proposed merger of its museum and college with George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art heads to court Friday. The hearing comes as the District of Columbia filed court documents this week in support of allowing the museum's merger to go forward. But opponents, including some students, alumni, donors and former faculty and staff, have filed a lawsuit seeking intervene.

Under the merger plan finalized in May, the Corcoran building would continue operating as a museum, though with less than half its current gallery space. Most of the building would be devoted to the art school, which would become part of George Washington University, and the university would assume responsibility for a major renovation of the Corcoran's historic Beaux-Arts building.

The National Gallery of Art would acquire the bulk of the Corcoran's 17,000 artworks and would run the exhibit programs and museum operations. Some artworks would be distributed to other museums with a preference for those in Washington.

Corcoran lawyers argued in a filing Monday that opponents of the deal have no standing to intervene and that delaying the merger into the Corcoran college's next academic year would deplete the museum's operating funds.

"Indeed, to operate the college for the upcoming academic term would require that the board violate the standards imposed by the relevant museum associations by requiring the use of proceeds from the sale of art to be used for operating expenses," attorney Charles Patrizia wrote. He added that such a move would destroy "the Corcoran's reputation as a museum."

Opponents with the group Save the Corcoran have accused the Corcoran's trustees of financial mismanagement. They have asked a judge to force a full financial accounting of the museum and the removal of its current board of trustees. The group also asked for a requirement that the entire art collection be kept together.

In a court filing Wednesday, attorney Andrew Tulumello dismissed the Corcoran's warnings that it could lose its museum accreditation if it sells artworks to continue operating as an independent museum.

"While it is obviously not desirable to fall out of the good graces of the (American Alliance of Museums), when the very life of an institution is at stake, the issue must be considered," Tulumello wrote, adding that W.W. Corcoran would not have elevated museum association membership over "the utter destruction of the institution he created and nurtured."

Despite the opposition, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan filed comments Wednesday supporting the Corcoran's merger. The attorney general is charged with representing the public interest when a court considers major changes to a charity's deed and structure.

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat .

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)