Category Archives: museums

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?

The Detroit Institute of Arts: Worth Fighting For?

Last Tuesday, voters in the metro-Detroit, Michigan, area passed a millage to fund the Detroit Institute of Arts for a 10-year period.

The August 7th election included Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. Wayne County voters passed the millage by 68.15%, Oakland County by 63.68%. Macomb County, a tough sell, squeaked it by at 50.5%.

Just before the election I received a robo-call from the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, an anti-tax group in Macomb County opposing this millage. The recording warned me that the “Detroit Elite” want to spend my money. No definition for this “Detroit Elite” was given.

Possible Detroit Elite:

  • Some wealthy Detroiters that want their art and not pay for it too?
  • A group of starving artistic types that feel entitled to other people’s money to fuel their personal passions?
  • Millionaires caught backing art museums in Switzerland while those in Detroit suffer?
  • Low-income Detroit families scamming the northern suburbs to fund their addiction to art galleries when they only deserve to live by bread alone?

I’m not a fan of big tax increases and I believe that government tends to be highly inefficient. But my mind was already set to vote Yes on this millage.

Everyone has their sacred cows and museum funding is one of mine. I grew up rather poor without many frills and no grand vacations. My father took me to the Detroit Historical Museum on one of his Saturday afternoon custody visits with me. I immediately fell in love and wanted to go there all the time. Then I was taken to the Detroit Institute of Arts and fell in love again.

Great beauty and evil live in museums. We can enjoy the best of what the human spirit offers within those walls. Also, museums keep us from forgetting the potential for evil within all of us. With that knowledge and with some luck, we won’t repeat the worst events in history.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is part of a wonderful museum district that includes: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; the Detroit Historical Museum (closed for renovations until November 2012); and the Detroit Science Center (closed due to lack of funding).

I’m glad the millage passed. Maybe I can now count myself among the Detroit Elite?