The fate of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection remains uncertain now that the city of Detroit has been deemed eligible to file for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. The DIA responded to today’s ruling from Judge Steven Rhodes by issuing a statement opposing the efforts of city creditors to sell artwork from its collection.
Defending itself as “a cultural resource of the people of Detroit, the tri-county area and the entire State of Michigan,” the DIA promised to continue operations independent from financial support from the city, thereby “saving Detroit $350 million in expenses over the next 10 years and giving the people of Michigan ready access to world-class artistic and educational experiences.” The museum is funded largely by donors as well as a local tax, implemented in January, on residents of three nearby counties.
Although the Michigan Attorney General ruled out the possibility of the sale of the DIA’s art in June, appraisers from Christie’s were brought on board in August to assess the value of the collection, estimated to be worth $2 billion. (The city’s debt is nearly $18 billion.) According to the Attorney General’s statement, the museum’s holdings are considered part of a charitable trust belonging to the people of Michigan, and are thus ineligible to be sold to bolster Detroit’s finances or fulfill its municipal obligations. Nevertheless, city creditors filed a motion last week to create a committee that would oversee its sale, indicating that the artwork remains very much in jeopardy.
In today’s ruling, Judge Rhodes did not indicate whether or not the DIA collection was fair game in the event of a city fire sale. According to the Detroit Free Press, Rhodes warned the city that a quick infusion of cash would not solve the budget problem long term, and advised that they “must take extreme care that the asset is truly unnecessary in carrying out its mission” before deciding to sell valuable assets.
While voicing its support of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s efforts to solve the financial crisis, the museum expressed hope that Orr “will recognize the City’s fiduciary duty to protect the museum art collection for future generations and that he will abide by the Michigan Attorney General’s opinion that the City holds the art collection in trust and cannot use it to satisfy City obligations.”
Citing the collection’s survival of previous economic downturns such as the Great Depression, the museum fully expects to “maintain its position as a cornerstone of the vibrant economic and social community that continues to take shape in Midtown Detroit.” Should the city attempt to move forward with the sale, the Institute “remains committed to take action to preserve this cultural birthright for future generations.”