Selling off of Detroit Institute of Art’s priceless collection “on the table” to address Detroit’s crushing debt

If everything good about Detroit is destroyed, is it still Detroit?


[DIA “Thinker” image modified from CC photo by Michael Barera | Wikimedia Commons]

This past Wednesday, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was in Chicago talking to a group of philanthropists, some of whom are likely holding some of Detroit’s debt, and he told them, “We can’t liquidate or sell off Detroit like many of us do when we go into our representations…This isn’t a traditional reorganization for a profit-making enterprise, this is the saving of a great American city.”

This comment is in stark contrast to the news that came out yesterday that Orr has asked for an appraisal of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ priceless collection of art.

The once unthinkable is suddenly thinkable.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering whether the multibillion-dollar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts should be considered city assets that potentially could be sold to cover about $15 billion in debt.

How much is the art at the DIA worth? Nobody knows exactly, but several billion dollars might well be a low estimate.

Even the possibility has set off a sharp reaction. The DIA hired a bankruptcy lawyer to advise it, and philanthropist and DIA patron A. Alfred Taubman said this evening that “it would be a crime” to sell any of the DIA’s collection to satisfy city creditors.

“I’m sure Mr. Orr, once he thinks about it, will certainly not choose that as one of the assets,” Taubman said. “It’s not just an asset of Detroit. It’s an asset of the country.”

The DIA’s collection has original pieces from Degas, van Gogh, Rembrandt and a remarkable mural titled “Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera.


[CC image credit: Vasenka | Flickr]

Orr justified the move through his spokesman, Bill Nowling, who told reporters that they basically had to do this because debt holders are demanding it.

“We have to look at everything on the table…” {…}

“The creditors can really force the issue,” Nowling said. “If you go into court, they can object and say, ‘Hey, I’m taking a huge haircut, and you’ve got a billion dollars worth of art sitting over there.’ ”

Nowling said that some creditors already have asked Orr whether the DIA collection is “on the table.”

If even one piece of the DIA’s collection was sold to pay down Detroit’s debt, it would be a tragedy of epic proportions. Not only is this a national treasure held in trust by the people of Detroit, it is a major draw to the area, bringing tourism dollars into the city. Selling the DIA’s collection would be eating Detroit’s seed corn in a very real sense.

We as Michganders have to ask ourselves this question: if we forsake all that is good about our state’s largest city, what will remain? We can not allow Detroit to slowly wind down like a failing clock until it is no longer a city at all but just a carcass, picked over by vultures and left to rot in the sun.

Kevyn Orr is right. We cannot “liquidate or sell off Detroit”. This idea must be taken off the table.

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  • Carolyn 4444

    Gee, I guess money’s not enough! The financial Poobahs of the country need to own our culture too! Mr. Orr – some manager you are!

  • TeacherPatti

    I can’t help but wonder if this is the equivalent of the magician waving his red flag while he does the “dirty work” out of sight. In other words, do they have something even more awful cooked up and they are trying to distract us and get us going?

  • SRfromGR

    Un-fucking-believable! All my memories, my inspiration and my love for art stem from my introduction to the art world through the DIA of my childhood and beyond as a native Michigander. This man is bad bad news. He’s clearly unsuited for the job he’s been hired to do, and he’s cutting off the nose of Detroit, Michigan and the country, to spite the face.

  • missliberties

    For some reason, this reminds me of what was done in Iraq, stealing the culture.

    This is beyond disgusting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Weinberg/100000939106841 Adam Weinberg

    detroit is the test city once they liquidate detroit you best believe that they are coming to your home town.

  • Sandra Xenakis

    I suggest the Michigan legislature and governor (who forced the emergency manager on Detroit) go back and re-read their nursery stories, especially “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.” Our so-called leaders in this state have sunk to a new–and incredibly stupid–low, even by mentioning this as an option.

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