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News Flash: D.C. Attorney General Supports Corcoran Merger

District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan

District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan

In advance of tomorrow’s cy pres hearing, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Irvin Nathan has given his go-ahead to the planned merger of the Corcoran Gallery and College of Art + Design with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.

In a 20-page brief (not counting voluminous exhibits) dated yesterday, the AG “concluded that the Corcoran’s financial situation will prevent it from continuing to pursue its mission as a viable and independent institution and that, as a result, cy pres relief is justified.”

He went on to say:

As part of the review process, the District has requested, and the parties to the transaction have agreed, to include terms in the proposed transactions to ensure that, to the extent practical, the Corcoran’s art stays in D.C. and the Corcoran’s historic 17th Street building continues to be used for the exhibition of art….These outcomes are consistent with Mr. Corcoran’s general charitable intent to maintain an institution of art in D.C., accessible to the public, which preserves and produces art and encourages “American genius.”…

Although many commenters seek to review the Corcoran’s past activities, there have been no proposed alternatives to the Corcoran National Gallery-GW transactions that would resolve the Corcoran’s current, serious financial issues.

The AG fudged what for me is the key question: Does the proposed merger “seek ‘as nearly as possible’ [the translation of “cy pres“] to adhere to the original donor’s intent.” That definition of cy pres is a direct quote from the one of the Corcoran’s own briefs seeking permission to deviate from founder William Corcoran‘s deed.

Instead of stating that the proposed merger conforms to Corcoran’s stipulations “as nearly as possible,” the AG uses a far less stringent standard: “Are the proposed transactions consistent with [emphasis added] Mr. Corcoran’s charitable intent?”

The AG took no position on whether Save the Corcoran, opponents to the deal, should be granted legal standing to be heard in this case. But he does appear oppose future arguments in the case, stating that “adding more litigation to the mix, along with unreasonable delay, will not advance the goals of cy pres, and simply will burden the Corcoran with additional expenses it can ill afford.”

Save the Corcoran’s lawyer, Andrew Tulumello, contacted by me for comment, feels differently:

There should be no rush to judgment. The many heartfelt and courageous submissions [of comments] from students, staff, and faculty to the Attorney General raise many important and meaningful questions about whether there is a better way.”

Tulumello is planning to argue at tomorrow’s hearing that his group be granted standing in this case. The hearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Okun will take place at Moultrie Courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave. NW, Washington D.C., 2:30 p.m.

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