There may be a bargain for Detroit’s bankruptcy, which doesn’t involve selling DIA down the river.
According to the Detroit Free Press, emergency manager Kevyn Orr is now considering using the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection for rentals and “collateral” in order to reap the $400-$500 million that the city needs. DIA has agreed to work with Orr, but only on the condition that he preserves the art. “Putting the art up as collateral doesn’t protect it,” notes DIA’s chief operating officer Annmarie Erickson.
Still, that’s apparently a common practice, thanks to Jeffrey Deitch. Plus, according to the Freep, preserving the collection would mean life over death for DIA; several donors have promised they will leave immediately if art is sold.
Whatever the decision, all involved will need to act soon. Christie’s should finish its valuation by the end of the month, and Orr’s pressured to come up with a plan by end of year.
Nobody’s even sure yet if the city is legally allowed to leverage artworks as city holdings, but some expect that view to hold up in federal bankruptcy court. First there’s the dire need for relief. Then there’s the fact that DIA’s building and art is technically owned by the city, and has been a city department for most of the 20th century. During boom times, DIA received much of its operating budget from the city; in the 1920s DIA used city funds to acquire some of its most valuable works.
But much of the rest of DIA’s masterpieces come from private collections which were posthumously gifted, and are under legal agreements that they can not be sold. DIA’s state and city funding has been steadily cut throughout the nineties, and now, thanks to a 2012 vote, taxpayers have agreed to cover 70% of its current operating budget for the next ten years with a small property tax. And whether or not the city’s legally allowed to dip into the collection, many worry that selling the work would only hurt Detroit in the long-run; stripping DIA would, as James S. Russell put it, “permi[t] mostly outsiders to abscond with anything of value the city owns.”