D.C. attorney general’s office backs Corcoran deal

GW will pay for renovations to the Corcoran's 17th Street building as part of the merger. | Hatchet file photo.
GW will pay for renovations to the Corcoran’s 17th Street building as part of the merger. Hatchet File Photo.
The D.C. attorney general’s office endorsed GW’s acquisition of the Corcoran College of Art + Design late Wednesday, just days before a hearing on the merger.

City lawyers from D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan’s office said the deal would save the Corcoran from years of slumping fundraising, a shrinking endowment and a budgetary deficit, calling the merger justified in 233 pages of court documents.

“The District believes that the Corcoran’s proposed transactions will best ensure that the Corcoran’s charitable assets continue to exist in D.C., for the benefit of the public and supported by other artistic and educational D.C. institutions,” the attorneys wrote.

Their argument came just a day after Provost Steven Lerman submitted a letter to the court claiming a delay in the merger could threaten enrollment and complicate distribution of financial aid to Corcoran students.

D.C. Superior Court must still approve changes to the Corcoran’s charter before GW can take over its 17th Street building and art college, and before the Corcoran can pass on its 17,000 pieces of art to the National Gallery of Art.

Revenue at Corcoran fundraising events has not reached $1 million in the last five years, and the institution reported net losses for fundraising events from 2009 to 2012, according to financial statements submitted to the court. The records included past tax filings and written comments from 53 members of the public.

The financial distress kept the Corcoran from making necessary renovations to its aging building, according to the documents. GW will spend $25 million for the first phase of upgrades.

The Corcoran’s deal with GW and the National Gallery prevented the renowned art gallery from selling any artwork, the Washington Post reported. Former director Paul Greenhalgh wrote in a court brief that the Corcoran considered selling its art to salvage the faltering institution.

The city’s lawyers argued that without the merger, the Corcoran would soon be unable to operate the museum or school without borrowing from the dwindling endowment.

“The Corcoran and the public, accordingly face a future in which there is no Corcoran Gallery, and/or no Corcoran School, at all in D.C., and the 17th Street building is no longer viable for use as a museum,” they wrote.

The advocacy group Save the Corcoran – made up of curators, lawyers and artists – has tried to stop the deal by filing a motion to block the changes to the Corcoran’s charter. But city lawyers called the proposal “a short-term fix that will not alleviate the longer-term problems that the Corcoran faces.”

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