Opponents of the deal to reorganize the Corcoran Gallery of Art won a major procedural victory in D.C. Superior Court on Monday afternoon, setting up a four-day hearing next week where clashing visions of what should become of Washington’s oldest art museum will be tested through witness testimony and documentary evidence.
Reading his opinion from the bench to a packed courtroom for 20 minutes, Judge Robert Okun ruled that nine members of the advocacy group Save the Corcoran must be admitted as intervening parties in a proceeding launched by the Corcoran last month to revise its 1869 charter.
The nine include seven current students of the Corcoran College of Art and Design, one anonymous faculty member, and one anonymous member of the staff of the gallery. The two “John Doe” parties do not want to be identified for fear of “retaliation,” according to their written declarations submitted by the opponents’ attorney, Drew Tulumello, a partner with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
Okun accepted Tulumello’s argument that the nine have a “special interest” in the proceeding and could be affected by the outcome. The Corcoran is seeking court approval to turn over the college to George Washington University and to give most of the gallery’s art to the National Gallery of Art.
The ruling means that after two years of advocating their cause through demonstrations, speeches and media interviews, strong skeptics of the Corcoran’s leadership will have a chance to prove their case in a courtroom.
After court adjourned, smiling members of Save the Corcoran embraced one another.
“It means everything,” said Miguel Perez, 24, a fine arts photography major entering his junior year and one of the students admitted into the case. “An active voice in this is what the students have wanted all along.”
“It’s the right thing to happen, before you can dissolve an institution like the Corcoran — all of these questions should be answered,” said Jayme McLellan, an organizer of Save the Corcoran.
The opponents insist that the Corcoran can continue as an independent gallery and college and claim that Corcoran leaders have not demonstrated that dissolving the institution is the only way forward.
Corcoran executives counter that intractable financial problems leave no alternative and that pairing with the National Gallery and GWU is best way to carry on the Corcoran’s legacy of art education and art exhibition.
Corcoran attorney Charles Patrizia, a partner with Paul Hastings, warned the court that if the deal with the National Gallery and GWU is derailed, the gallery may have to close and the college’s future would be uncertain.
The arrangement between the Corcoran, the National Gallery and GWU is not set to close before Aug. 12. It is contingent on the court’s approval of the new arrangement.
Okun scheduled an evidentiary hearing to begin next Monday afternoon and continue through Thursday if necessary.