Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm No Art Fanatic but Come On!

So far, more than 9,000 people have “liked” a Facebook group called “Save the DIA.” (DIA refers to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the 658,000-square-foot institute on Woodward Avenue that was founded in 1885 and is home to an impressive billion-dollar art collection.) And more than 5,500 folks have signed a “Save the DIA” petition at a Save the DIA website.

Does this matter to Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, and his myopic minions? I’m gonna say no. The City of Detroit (which, technically, owns the DIA’s art) is in bankruptcy. What better time for the rich to get their hands on some of the most amazing art ever created by humankind to hang in their foyers and great rooms?

(Click here to read, “Detroit bankruptcy creditors ask judge to take steps toward sale of DIA treasures,” Detroit Free Press, November 26, 2013.)

Detroit’s population last year stood at 701,475; the state is home to over nine million people. If we don’t allow for duplications and add 9,000 and 5,500, we get 14,500, which is just over .02 percent of the city’s population. (For the purpose of this blog post, I’m ignoring the fact that some Detroit residents are under 18 and can’t vote.) Snyder’s proven time and time again that he doesn’t care what a solid majority thinks about robbing from the poor to give to the rich, making Michigan a “right to work” state, killing representative democracy in our cities and other issues; it’s a pretty safe bet that relatively miniscule numbers aren’t going to persuade him to respect the importance of art in the D and in this state as a whole.

I’ve only been to the DIA three times: once when my mom took me as a kid; once in the 1980s when my boss at the time, Governor Jim Blanchard, held an inaugural celebration there; and once in the 1990s when my friend Carol Misseldine and I headed downtown. (Unfortunately, I put a damper on that visit by locking my keys in the car and necessitating that we spend $65 to get a tow truck driver to let us back in.) I don’t remember any of the art – except for the wonderful Diego Rivera murals that adorn the walls of Rivera Court – but I remember being impressed that so much of the most undeniably precious artwork in existence, so much of the best that our civilization has produced, is located in a city that’s so often trashed and maligned by friend and foe alike.

And now our short-sighted Republican politicians want to solve the city’s budget problems in part by selling off the works of a significant number of artists, people I’ve heard of and people I haven’t, masters like Cézanne and Degas, van Gogh and Gauguin, and luminaries like Andrew Wyeth and Andy Warhol, Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe, John James Audubon, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and James McNeill Whistler.

Violinist and Young Woman, 1870–72
Edgar Degas
The museum, which contains 100 separate art galleries, once boasted an endowment of $350 million. But a bad economy – combined with unexpected costs and a decrease in contributions – reduced the endowment balance to critical levels. And revenue from admissions, the museum restaurant and the gift shop only generates around 15 percent of the DIA’s annual budget. (A property tax shouldered by residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties generates most of the DIA’s $22 million annual budget.)

So what do the city’s largest creditors decide to do?

They just filed a motion in federal court asking the judge to appoint a committee “to oversee an independent evaluation of the market value of the multi-billion dollar city-owned collection at the DIA,” according to the Detroit Free Press. In their filing, they insist that Detroit’s emergency manager, Snyder crony Kevyn Orr, isn’t moving aggressively enough to schedule a fire sale.

(Click here to read, “Can *I* Be an Emergency Manager? Please?,” January 5, 2012.)

Not only are the rich greedy, but they’re impatient too.

I'm no expert on Detroit's finances or politics and I concede that I don't have the slightest idea how to address the D's budget woes. It just seems to me that selling off - and essentially destroying - one of the few gems left in Motown isn't the answer.

Portrait of a Nobleman, 1623
Diego Velázquez

Click here to help provide ongoing operational support by contributing to the DIA Annual Fund or send your check to DIA Annual Fund, Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48202-9930.

(Click here to read, “Why the Rich Are Less Ethical: They See Greed as Good,” TIME, February 28, 2012. And click here to read, “The DIA's priceless art: What some of their most valuable pieces could be worth,” Detroit Free Press, May 26, 2013.)

Sources: Detroit Institute of Arts, Save the DIA, Detroit Free Press, Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine.


  1. Is it fascism when the art no longer belongs to the people, but to the wealthy who hide it away for their own enjoyment? Remember how Hitler's minions raped the art and wealth of the nations they conquered? I am in FL and am appalled.

  2. Did it ever belong to 'the people'? Haven't the Vatican got it all and Buckingham Palace anyway?