The Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art v. District of Columbia

2014 D.C. LEXIS 17 (2014)

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The Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art v. District of Columbia

District of Columbia Superior Court
2014 D.C. LEXIS 17 (2014)

Facts

William Corcoran established the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design through a deed of trust in 1869. The purpose of the trust was to establish an institution in Washington, D.C., dedicated to art for the purpose of encouraging American genius. Corcoran donated a collection of art and cash to the trust. The property donated was to be used for the perpetual establishment of a public gallery and museum for the promotion of the fine arts. The deed of trust created a board of trustees (the trustees) (plaintiffs) with the discretion to manage the institution generally. By the 2000s, the financial situation of the Corcoran gallery and college had deteriorated. Without significant changes, the gallery would close in a matter of months. The trustees tried unsuccessfully several tactics to remedy the financial situation. Ultimately, the trustees applied to the court for approval of a modification of the terms of the trust under the cy pres doctrine. The trustees’ proposal sought to transfer the gallery and the college to the ownership and control of the adjacent George Washington University (GWU), to which Corcoran had extensive ties, and the National Gallery of Art. GWU agreed to continue displaying many of the Corcoran gallery’s works, and the National Gallery of Art agreed to help manage Corcoran’s collection. GWU also agreed to continue operating the college under Corcoran’s name as part of GWU. A group of students and faculty at Corcoran College (intervenors) intervened in the trustees’ application for cy pres relief. They made several alternative proposals that would have avoided the Corcoran gallery and college losing independence. However, these proposals were much riskier and posed a threat of loss of accreditation for the college and gallery as well as sanctions for the gallery.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Okun, J.)

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