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Corcoran Gallery merger plan draws formal protests, signs of support in DC legal process

A group representing students, alumni, donors and faculty who are working to stop the Corcoran Gallery of Art — one of the nation's oldest museums — and its college from merging with two larger institutions filed a formal objection to the deal Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court.

Lawyers for the nonprofit group Save the Corcoran filed the lawsuit seeking to intervene in the museum's effort to merge with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. A deal finalized among the three institutions in May is subject to court approval. The agreement would allow the Corcoran building to continue operating as a museum, though with less than half its current gallery space. More space would be devoted to the art school.

The group's complaint accuses Corcoran Gallery trustees of financial mismanagement, waste and negligence. It seeks a full financial accounting of the Corcoran, the removal of its current board of trustees and a requirement that the entire art collection be kept together.

Plaintiffs in the complaint include students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors and members of the museum.

"There are so many hard questions that need to be answered. We need to start there," said Caroline Lacey, a plaintiff and graduate student, in announcing the complaint. "If the Trustees want to dissolve a national, historic gem, we need to understand every wrong turn."

Under the proposed merger, the Corcoran College would become part of George Washington University. The bulk of the Corcoran's 17,000 artworks would be transferred to the National Gallery. Others would be distributed to other museums with a preference for those in Washington.

This week, the American University Museum announced a new $1.5 million gift will allow it to create a larger space dedicated to displaying works by Washington artists and an archive of Washington art, which could position the museum to take some of the Corcoran's art.

The Corcoran's proposed merger drew support Wednesday from the Washington region's universities. The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, representing 13 schools, filed a letter of support with the D.C. attorney general, saying the merger would save the Corcoran's art college and museum.

"This partnership literally saves both a top-ranked school of art and design and an art collection that is truly a national treasure," wrote John Cavanaugh, the consortium's president and CEO.

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

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