The Corcoran Gallery's beaux-arts building

The Corcoran Gallery’s beaux-arts building (photo by Laura Padgett/Flickr)

Several concerned parties, including the Save the Corcoran advocacy group, have filed legal briefs seeking to block the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s planned integration with the National GalleryWashington City Paper reported. The effort, undertaken by faculty, alumni, donors, students, and former staff alleges managerial neglect on the part of the Corcoran’s administration and Trustees.

The documents, filed yesterday in Washington, DC Superior Court, state that the deal with the National Gallery “represents a betrayal of the Corcoran’s legacy, a dismantling of its key assets and features, and an abdication of the trustees’ role as stewards.”

The group is attempting to intervene in an ongoing legal process, known as cy près, that evaluates the dissolution of nonprofit entities. According to the Washington Post, the plaintiffs are asking Judge Robert Okun to order the Corcoran to provide an audit, appoint a review committee to assess alternatives to the National Gallery deal, and to reject the deal if it becomes apparent that Corcoran trustees contributed to the institution’s financial woes.

Should the deal be approved, the plaintiffs are further asking that Judge Okun remove all current Corcoran trustees, ensure that the entirety of the school’s collection remains in Washington, rather than just the “cherry-picked” National Gallery selection, and mandate that the Corcoran building continue to provide exhibition space to local artists.

The Corcoran action joins similar litigation surrounding the Cooper Union’s recent decision to begin charging tuition, with alumni and faculty bodies at both schools alleging that financial mismanagement by trustees has led to the abrogation of each institution’s 19th-century founding charter.

Update, 7/7 10:20am: See below for an astute legal clarification regarding cy près by commenter MBotwinick.

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2 replies on “Corcoran Group Mounts Legal Challenge to National Gallery Deal”

  1. A small, but important note. Cy pres is generally not about evaluating the dissolution of nonprofit entities. It is used in cases where, over time, the Directors of a Trust find they can no longer meet the original intent of the Trust. Via cy pres they ask the court for permission to alter some of the terms of the trust in order to continue the Trust as close to its original purposes as possible. In the Barnes Foundation case the Trustees argued they if they could move out of Lower Merion, where the Foundation was originally placed, they could meet all of the rest of Dr. Barnes original intentions. So cy pres is about preserving entities as closely as possible to their original intent rather than dissolving them. The filing today by STC makes a strong argument that this is a dissolution not a modification. If the Court gives them standing, the court may choose to consider this in its decision.

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