The advocacy group Save the Corcoran filed a motion today in D.C. Superior Court to intervene in  proceedings that would result in the dissolution of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design. With this motion, which consists of a complaint and a petition, the group formally opposes a cy-près petition filed by Corcoran trustees in June.

The Corcoran petition seeks to change the museum charter so that the institution can be dissolved, with its assets and functions divided between George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art. With its motion, Save the Corcoran argues that the trustees aim to “secure the ultimate demise of the Corcoran Trust,” and that the plaintiffs—which include students and alumni, faculty and staff, and donors and members—have a special interest in enforcing the original trust.

“Let there be no mistake: Petitioners [Corcoran trustees] request the total destruction of the Corcoran, and they seek to dissolve the Corcoran on terms that are mystifying to students, faculty, donors, and the arts community,” the complaint reads. “Rather than chart a course that remains even remotely faithful to the terms of the Trust, the supposed ‘next best’ remedy proposed by Petitioners is no ‘remedy’ at all. It is complete surrender and abdication.”

The petition, filed this morning by Andrew Tulumello (a partner with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher working with Save the Corcoran), establishes the plaintiffs’ standing and leave to intervene, noting that the Corcoran trustees oppose intervention but that the District of Columbia takes no position on the matter. The petition defines how the various constituencies represented by Save the Corcoran (Corcoran students, staff, donors, and so on) would all be harmed, were the court to grant the trustees’ cy-près petition.

Alumni, for example, would be harmed by “lost employment opportunities due both to the diminished value and reputation of their degree,” were the Corcoran College of Art + Design to be absorbed by George Washington University, the petition maintains.

The complementary complaint, meanwhile, calls on the court to ensure the integrity of the school and museum at the Corcoran, demand financial transparency from the board, and remove the current trustees altogether.

“It is now evident that the Board of Trustees has stopped believing that the Corcoran can or should remain a vibrant, independent institution. The Board has halted fundraising and efforts to reach out to new leadership,” the complaint reads. “In the last several years alone, the Board has engaged in a bewildering, mystifying series of steps that violate its trust obligations and charter and cast its judgment into serious question.”

To that end, the complaint filed by Save the Corcoran cites the Corcoran cy-près petition as evidence that trustees have not held with the institution’s charter. “Indeed, if this plan were not contrary to the charitable purposes of the Corcoran Trust, the Trustees would not need a [cy-près] determination.”

The goal of Save the Corcoran, says founder Jayme McLellan, is to find a solution for years of mismanagement at the Corcoran that does not result in the institution’s destruction.

“Enforcing the trust would mean the Corcoran would stay an independent museum and college,” says McLellan, who is the director of Civilian Art Projects, via email. “And it would not dissolve into [George Washington University] and [the National Gallery of Art].”

A hearing on the cy-près petition is scheduled for July 18. Presently, only representatives for the D.C. Attorney General and lawyers for the Corcoran have standing to speak. A Superior Court conference on the Corcoran matter is scheduled for Sept. 23, but that hearing will be moot if the court grants the cy-près petition this month.

“We have no substantive comment to make at this time, as the Corcoran’s attorneys have not seen the motion,” says Mimi Carter, vice president for marketing and communications at the Corcoran.

Save the Corcoran’s petition to intervene

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Save the Corcoran’s motion to intervene

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery