This week Christie’s released a report that tells the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) how to help cover the city’s $18 billion debt. It’s been several months since the city of Detroit first gave Christie’s appraisers their task: to put a price on the city-owned artworks in DIA’s collection, and offer suggestions for how this collection can benefit the city. The idea here is that all this art is a treasure trove of potential income for the city as it tries to pay its debtors. So now we have a report with some numbers—the collection is worth up to $867 million—and some recommendations.
The main thing to know is there are Five Moneymaking Tricks for DIA:
DIA could use their collection as collateral for a loan.
If that doesn’t work out,
DIA could lease the collection.
Or they could find a donor:
DIA could sell (Editor’s note: Don’t think of the dictionary definition of “sell”!) the collection, only to have it gifted (Editor’s note: People like presents!) back to the museum.
Okay, if that’s not acceptable, why not do something museums already do?
DIA could create a traveling exhibition from the collection.
If all else fails, there’s always the wild card.
DIA could form a “masterpiece trust,” letting others purchase minority stock in the collection.
Pretty much, these ideas are all sorts of bad. DIA doubts these proposals, too:
Four of the five alternatives outlined by Christie’s have already been addressed by the DIA in some detail. In most cases, these alternatives will yield a token amount of money, while placing the collection at substantial risk. The only new idea is the ‘Masterpiece Trust,’ and it is completely untested. Further complicating the trust alternative is the lack of specifics and the lack of an economic imperative for participation. With some exceptions, museums generally loan works of art free of charge except for packing and shipping fees. How a “Masterpiece Trust” would be received in the museum community remains to be seen. The DIA remains willing to engage in further discussions and is actively supporting the plan developed by the appointed mediators Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and Eugene Driker.
DIA’s not about to budge on letting anyone use their collection because the plan they’re referring to by Judges Rosen and Driker involves getting national and local foundations to help out with the city’s debt—and the museum’s collection would be left alone. That plan’s still in the baby stage, leaving us without any great solutions to saving Detroit. But at least we have a moral to draw out from the DIA art collection drama: May God help us all.