The D.C. superior court today approved the Corcoran’s plan to merge with the National Gallery of Art and the George Washington University, effectively dissolving the nearly 150-year-old institution. With this decision, one of D.C.’s oldest museums is about to undergo a drastic transformation in the next few months. Here’s what you need to know:
Back up. How did the Corcoran end up in court?
The Corcoran has long suffered from financial problems, and had previously sought solutions including selling its building, and entering a partnership with the University of Maryland. In February, the museum announced that it would enter a partnership with the National Gallery of Art and the George Washington University, handing over its collection to the museum, and its school and historic building to the university. Because the Corcoran is a non-profit, it needed the permission of the courts to change founder William Corcoran’s 1869 charter to allow the merger to go forward. Under the doctrine of “cy pres,” this permission was granted today.
What does the decision mean?
With this ruling, one of the country’s oldest art museums will no longer exist as an independent institution. But after years of fiscal difficulties, it also means that the artwork, building, students and remaining staff of the museum could have the chance for stability under a different set of leaders.
Who are the winners here?
— The National Gallery, which gets first pick of the Corcoran’s 17,000-piece collection of art, will emerge with a strengthened collection.
— GW will get to bolster its art program, which has not traditionally been an area of focus for the university. And, as one of the city’s major land owners, it gets a piece of prime real estate right off of the Ellipse.
“We are gratified by the court’s decision,” Corcoran lawyer Charles Patrizia said in a statement. “It assures that the Corcoran’s collection will be preserved, the College will be strengthened, and the Corcoran’s landmark Beaux Arts building will be restored, with exhibitions of contemporary art continuing.”
Who are the losers?
— Save the Corcoran, an advocacy group that presented its arguments against the merger as an intervening party in the case, put up a good fight — but it wasn’t enough.
— Many Corcoran students are wary of the merger. They fear the loss of their school’s character and spirit that could come with being merged into a larger institution, and they worry about future tuition increases: Undergraduate tuition at the Corcoran is $31,860, compared with $48,790 at George Washington. However, the University has announced that tuition will remain at a comparable rate for all current Corcoran students.
— While about 20 Corcoran curators and staff will move over to the National Gallery for their jobs, about 25 Corcoran staff members will be laid off.
What will happen to the Corcoran next?
— The museum will close on Oct. 1 for an undetermined period of time. The school will remain open.
— During this closure, the building will undergo a renovation that will reduce the amount of usable gallery space.
— The museum’s collection will be divvied up. The National Gallery gets first pick of the art, and other D.C. museums get second dibs on what is left. The remainder will be offered up to museums in the region, and anything they do not choose will be up for grabs by museums elsewhere in the country.
— Corcoran students will begin their first classes under GW’s leadership. Their classes will take place in the Corcoran building, and their tuition will remain the same for the next year, at least. About 150 full-time and part-time faculty and staff have been offered up to a one-year contract with GW, but with no guarantee that those contracts will be extended or that they will be hired by the University.
— The Corcoran will give GW $35 million to cover building repairs and expenses. The rest of the renovation money will come from GW.
What does this mean for Save the Corcoran?
Now that the merger will move forward, Save the Corcoran will put its efforts towards fighting to keep the collection together, and healing the fractured community.
What will the new “Corcoran” look like?
After a series of repairs to the building, the museum will reopen with no admission fee, just like the National Gallery. The renovated space will be much smaller — less than 40 percent of the current gallery space. The museum, which will exhibit contemporary and modern art, will be called “Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art.” A “legacy gallery” of the Corcoran’s most famous works will be on display as a tribute to the museum’s history. Permanently installed works, like the Salon Dore, a gilded 1770 French drawing room that was built into the Clark wing, will remain on display.
Read the full decision here: