Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says that the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts cannot be sold to narrow a deficit in the city's finances. Schuette issued a 22-page opinion yesterday in response to a request from state senator Randy Richardville.

"The art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the City of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection may thus be sold, conveyed, or transferred to satisfy City debts or obligations," Schuette writes.

Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has stated that all city assets must be on the table when considering how to deal with the city's $15- to $17-billion debt, though he has no specific plans to sell the Institute's collection. Notable works in the collection, valued at $15 billion, include canvases by Rembrandt and van Gogh and masterworks by Pieter Bruegel and Henri Matisse, along with a version of Rodin's statue The Thinker and a mural by Diego Rivera.

The attorney general's report outlines the museum's 128-year history, detailing the rising and falling levels of city and state support for the museum as well as past fiscal difficulties, which closed the museum temporarily in 1973.

While Schuette acknowledges the city's financial hardship in the report, he goes on to point out that "In the 128 years since the creation of the Detroit Institute of Arts, at no time have the people demanded that their most precious cultural resources be sold in order to satisfy financial obligations. To the contrary, the citizens of this State recognize that abandoning or selling the public's artwork would damage not only the City's but the State's cultural commonwealth."