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Save the Corcoran Alleges “Malfeasance” by Museum Leaders

The nonprofit institution set up to protest the museum’s relocation has sent a damning letter via the legal firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Save the Corcoran, the organization set up to officially oppose the sale of the Corcoran’s 1897 historic building in DC, today sent a letter via legal firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to the museum’s leadership alleging mismanagement, conflict of interest among board members and new employees, and corporate waste.

Addressed to Harry Hopper, chairman of the board of trustees, Fred Bollerer, president and CEO, and Lauren Garcia, COO, the letter states, “For the last several months, we have monitored events at the Corcoran and have engaged in an extensive factual and legal investigation of the Corcoran’s current circumstances. Regrettably, it has become clear that the Corcoran has been fundamentally and tragically mismanaged in recent years.”

Among the allegations:

—That the Corcoran’s intended move outside of DC is illegal and in direct conflict with the museum’s founding charter.

—That the board’s expressed interest in relocating to Alexandria is a conflict of interest given Hopper and Garcia’s involvement in the redevelopment of the Alexandria waterfront.

—That new communications director Mimi Carter is also invested personally in Alexandria, as a member of Securing Alexandria’s Future alongside Garcia, and a member of the Alexandria school board. The letter also states that Carter has “little to no relevant nonprofit fundraising experience.”

—That financial mismanagement has led to the Corcoran bringing in $3.2 million in charitable donations in 2010, compared with $20.1 million in 2001, $13 million in 2006, and $8.2 million in 2007. “The Corcoran’s financial woes are largely self-inflicted and irreconcilable with the money now being spent on consultants affiliated with Mr. Bollerer’s consulting firm,” states the letter.

—That potential donors have been turned away by the Corcoran because the museum “lacked a strategic plan and could not guarantee how the funds would be used.”

—That Hopper and Bollerer both left the country for several weeks at a time during the summer and fall when the Corcoran’s sale was first announced, at a time when “these leaders should have been devoting their efforts to strengthening the Corcoran.”

—That the reasons the museum states for needing to sell its building—including renovation costs that could total $130 million—are inaccurate. “Our factual investigation has confirmed that this number is wildly inflated and is not credible,” states the letter. “The $130 million figure bakes in high-end upgrades and repairs that, when pressed, Corcoran leadership concede do not need to be made.”

The letter asks that the museum stop any further investigation into relocating to Alexandria and fill the three vacant positions on its board of trustees with people selected by Save the Corcoran. “Given that conditions at the museum appear to be much worse than Corcoran officials are publicly acknowledging, we request a response to our demand for three Board seats by no later than Friday, October 19.”

We’ve requested comment from the museum and will update as we hear back.

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  • TheArtoftheSteal

    There's a lot of information being printed about this story, but most of it is missing the key point. Certainly the Corcoran is in rough financial shape, but the Corcoran's been in rough financial shape before and bounced back and there's a strong case to be made that the current leadership have allowed this problem to worsen to serve their own purposes. Yes, repairs to the current facility would be costly, but they pale in comparison to retrofitting a new building. No, the Corcoran can't exhibit the majority of its collection, but that's the case for any major museum and the percentages at the Corcoran are comparable to the National Gallery, the Met, or the Phillips.

    So why is the Corcoran pushing the idea of selling the building? Two words: Lauren Garcia. When Garcia was hired as COO just over a year ago by her friend, Alexandria neighbor, and Chairman of the Corcoran board, Harry Hopper, she was fresh off a term on the board of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, an organization dedicated to attracting new institutions to Alexandria. She saw the Corcoran for what it was: a financially vulnerable institution with weak leadership. She manipulated the pliant and inexperienced President, Fred Bollerer, into presenting her plan to sell the building as his own. She then hired her friend, Mimi Carter (member of the Alexandria School Board) as head of communications to control the story in the media and later promoted Carter to head of fundraising - a field in which she had no experience - to ensure donations came to a standstill and the museum could continue pleading bankruptcy.

    Garcia has been plotting to sell the building and move the museum to Alexandria since the day she was hired. The most amazing thing about this whole sordid tale is that she may actually get away with it.

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