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You’ve got a billion dollars worth of art sitting over there.
May 24, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Detroit Institute of Arts collection could face sell-off to satisfy Detroit's creditors 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.
posted by R. Mutt (87 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by to sir with millipedes at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, that would be a sad and short-sighted way to go.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on May 24, 2013


Well, you have to admit that plundering the public's cultural heritage to sell it to the wealthy, without addressing the crippling structural issues that led to this state of affairs, works great as a metaphor.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:17 AM on May 24, 2013 [108 favorites]


This comes just a year after voters in three counties narrowly approved a millage to cover the DIA's annual operating costs. I'm not surprised that the emergency financial manager brought this possibility out, but it's pretty much his 'opening move' in public negotiations about how he is going to unilaterally fix our finances.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:19 AM on May 24, 2013


I'm sure that dismantling the cultural offerings that Detroit has will work out great in terms of revitalizing the city's economy.
posted by Kimberly at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Dooooooo it. The Seattle Art Museum could use a little lift.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2013


As long as someone paints the tragedy of the handing over of the art, I'm okay with it. Traditor is the root of the word traitor.
posted by resurrexit at 9:21 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck no.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:21 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


A few thoughts:

First, how does a municipality (even a major municipality) rack up $15 billion in debt? California, the most populous state in the Union, owes about $70 billion in public works-related debt by comparison.

Secondly, the art is not going to catch is full market value at auction -- especially if the buyers sense a desperate seller. It's likely that the art will go for relatively bargain-basement prices, which is both a shame and impractical for the city.
posted by Avenger at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2013


Dear Detroit,

The Detroit Institute of Arts is pretty much the only reason I travel to your city. That, and your proximity to the Toledo Museum of Art. Just so you know.

I realize you are in a difficult situation. Of course. I'm sure there's another solution out there, probably more difficult and complicated than this one. Perhaps that other solution is the one you should be aiming for? Because ridding Detroit of its biggest gem may not help much in the long run.

Anyway, just some food for thought. Give Dearborn my regards.

Love,
Capt. Renault.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Pull it together, Detroit. Everyone knows: You've gotta have art!
posted by heyho at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll pick up some litter in exchange for the Bruegel. Throw in the Titian and I will paint some houses for y'all.
posted by Teakettle at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eponyfacepalm.
posted by the painkiller at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2013


First, how does a municipality (even a major municipality) rack up $15 billion in debt?

By issuing municipal bonds, among other methods. These bonds are often tax-free and backed by the city's power to tax its citizens, and since Detroit isn't really going to go anywhere, it's a good risk for an investor.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:31 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


How could bankruptcy be worse than what Detroit is already going through? It seems to me that if Detroit just straight defaulted on all their existing debt they'd be much better off, and probably a better credit risk to boot.
posted by gerryblog at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2013


Gosh, who could have anticipated a controversy such as this as a consequence of Michigan's recent emergency manager legislation which was passed with utter contempt for the Home Rule construct?
posted by klarck at 9:33 AM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I know what a municipal bond is, CPB, I'm just trying to wrap my head around what Detroit could buy with $15 billion that they don't have.

Also: You think Detroit is in dire straits now? Just wait until a bankruptcy makes it virtually impossible for them to borrow money at anything but extreme interest. State and local governments aren't like the Fed: they can't print money or force people to lend. A bankruptcy will have very real consequences for the people of Detroit, and possibly make a terrible situation even worse.
posted by Avenger at 9:33 AM on May 24, 2013


On the other hand if you'll take $20 for that Kiki Smith...?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on May 24, 2013


Brandeis University

Lincoln Center

Holding the art hostage, again.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:35 AM on May 24, 2013


First, how does a municipality (even a major municipality) rack up $15 billion in debt?

So.
Detroit’s Emergency Manager Offers Dire Report on City
Only Wall Street Wins in Detroit Crisis Reaping $474 Million Fee
Banks including UBS AG (UBS), Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM). have enabled about $3.7 billion of bond issues to cover deficits, pension shortfalls and debt payments since 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Liabilities rose to almost $15 billion, including money owed retirees, according to a state treasurer’s review.

The debt sales cost Detroit $474 million, including underwriting expenses, bond-insurance premiums and fees for wrong-way bets on swaps, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That almost equals the city’s 2013 budget for police and fire protection.

The largest part is $350 million owed for derivatives meant to lower borrowing costs on variable-rate debt.
oh, look: Out of Control – New Report Exposes JPMorgan Chase as Mostly a Criminal Enterprise
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:36 AM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


How could bankruptcy be worse than what Detroit is already going through?

Who wants to the mayor of the major American city that went bankrupt? Whether or not it's the right thing to do, that'll end your political career.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:36 AM on May 24, 2013


Secondly, the art is not going to catch is full market value at auction -- especially if the buyers sense a desperate seller. It's likely that the art will go for relatively bargain-basement prices, which is both a shame and impractical for the city.

I'm sure there would be reserve prices - and a bidding frenzy. Not that I think they should sell the art.
posted by AnnElk at 9:36 AM on May 24, 2013


Who wants to the mayor of the major American city that went bankrupt? Whether or not it's the right thing to do, that'll end your political career.

I'll volunteer. I don't think I'm cut out for politics anyway.
posted by gerryblog at 9:38 AM on May 24, 2013


I think the big news for Detroit is who is running for Mayor of Detroit.
posted by JohnR at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2013


Who wants to the mayor of the major American city that went bankrupt? Whether or not it's the right thing to do, that'll end your political career.

And there was me thinking some people still went into regional politics for the public good, rather than personal advancement. Naive, I know.
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:41 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know what a municipal bond is, CPB, I'm just trying to wrap my head around what Detroit could buy with $15 billion that they don't have.

Road repairs? Bridge repairs? Water main repairs? I'm just guessing here, but the cost of maintaining cities is really quite enormous. My own local transit agency isn't entirely funded by the city, but its next budget is $1.32 billion - and that doesn't include any of the billion+ dollars they need just to repair aging infrastructure or expand service whatsoever.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:41 AM on May 24, 2013


The rich won't be satisfied til they have got their greedy fucking hands on everything.
posted by marienbad at 9:57 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This makes me sick. I hope threatening to sell the art is merely a gambit by the emergency manager to get the suburbs involved in bailing out Detroit.

What's next? Selling the animals at the Detroit Zoo?
posted by paulg at 9:57 AM on May 24, 2013


Does anyone know if they're going to sell the work to other cities or if they're going to sell the work to private collectors? One I don't mind and the other will just fill out my list for those first against the wall.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 10:03 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The DIA is a massive subsidy to art-lovers who are overwhelmingly not from the city of Detroit. I don't think selling the art is a smart financial move, to be sure, but I'm not at all crying over the general principle of liquidating suburban-friendly assets for the good of the city itself.
posted by downing street memo at 10:03 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Don't worry, the zoo animals won't be sold, they'll just be boiled for glue.
posted by wotsac at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, not technically a subsidy because of the millage, but certainly it's something that exists largely for the benefit of non-Detroiters.
posted by downing street memo at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2013


My boss and I once played with the idea of recommending that a government agency sell its art to help address a budget crisis.

Luckily, our shared humanity won out.
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:07 AM on May 24, 2013


I'm kind of surprised that the art museum is owned by the city. I didn't think that was common.
posted by octothorpe at 10:08 AM on May 24, 2013


So.
Detroit’s Emergency Manager Offers Dire Report on City
Only Wall Street Wins in Detroit Crisis Reaping $474 Million Fee


The banks may well be making a bad situation worse, but whatever profit they're taking out of this is just the dingleberry frosting on the turd cake. The liabilities the city has incurred are not primarily in the form of fees to banks.

I hope threatening to sell the art is merely a gambit by the emergency manager to get the suburbs involved in bailing out Detroit.


If that worked it could make this a pretty slick move. A lot of Detroit's problem is the way the suburbs have hollowed out the city and eroded its tax base.

The rich won't be satisfied til they have got their greedy fucking hands on everything.

If these paintings were to be sold, the vast majority of them would end up in other public galleries. They found their way into the Detroit Institute of the Arts in the first place because Detroit used to have a whole bunch of "the rich" who wanted to demonstrate their cultural sophistication. While I think it would be a terrible shame for the DIA to sell off its collection, it would largely be a transfer of works from "the rich" to "the rich"--with the broader public retaining pretty much the same access to the works as before.
posted by yoink at 10:09 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cultural, legacy, and economic arguments aside (which are substantial), I don't see how you could do this even if you wanted.

So many pieces were donated with the expectation (spelled out or not) that these works would be for the Institute's use, broadly defined. If you change that purpose to something else, like municipal debt recovery, you undo the terms of that gift. Any heir of that old estate which donated the work can come along and make a challenge for the work.

Whether or not that challenge would be successful depends on the specifics of the gift. But at the very least, you're looking at decades of litigation, and on hundreds of fronts, to make the determination if anyone can sell these works at all.

So with humungo legal bills, and uncertain provenance, you're looking at massive costs and uncertain recovery even just to get these works to market, many years from now, and with the provenance tie-ups, lower sales as well. A legal fight of this size would make the fights over Holocaust seizures look like traffic court.

Even on just the legal aspects, this idea is a complete non-starter. Undoing more than a century of donations? Nevermind how you even begin -- would it ever end?
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Undoing more than a century of donations? Nevermind how you even begin -- would it ever end?

You may well be right, but it's worth remembering that it's not as if a great collection like this is built in dribs and drabs of donations from hundreds upon hundreds of families. There are a number of major donations that constitute large blocs of the collection. It's conceivable that some of those donations were made with no strings whatsoever and that that would allow for a large number of highly valuable items to be disposed of at once. While deacquisition is always controversial, it's not as if it's without precedent even at major art museums.
posted by yoink at 10:27 AM on May 24, 2013


Metafilter: the dingleberry frosting on the turd cake.
posted by symbioid at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


First, how does a municipality (even a major municipality) rack up $15 billion in debt?

Lose your entire tax base.

You can buy a house in Detroit for $100 cash. It won't be a nice house, but that's the kind of house Detroit is chockablock with. Property tax on $100 houses is not a good source of revenue. And virtually the entire city is in default on its mortgages and property tax, anyways, which not only removes revenue but adds costs, as now the city itself owns vast swathes of forfeited and foreclosed real estate it has no idea what to do with. Even the houses that are still functional many not cost $100, but their valuation is a small fraction of what it once was.

Seriously, go to Zillow.com and take a look at what Detroit's got on offer. Get on your bike in Google Streetview and look at the state of the place. It's an incredible American tragedy.

Detroit needs to be reborn. Selling the art? Normally that's a terrible idea, but Detroit is not a normal place. What use do they have for a bunch of old white European art when they can't keep the streetlights on? I say go ahead, give up on the 16th century and invest part of the money in 21st century art instead, and use the bulk of the dough to fix your city. Maybe make it all graffiti, I don't know. Right now you've got an art museum in the middle of a bomb crater. Van Gogh, Breughel, and Caravaggio aren't going to help you.

Maybe I'm completely wrong. But for sure, ignoring the problem of Detroit isn't working.
posted by Fnarf at 10:37 AM on May 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Used to work there. Also @ the Zoo. Left both places because, at the time, my immediate managers were awful. Back in the day both places could've gotten rid of them, saved some money and been run better.

I weep for my state and its ill-informed electorate and greedy and/or bumbling movers/shakers. While simultaneously wishing I'd left it long ago. Or at least in the early-to-mid aughts, back when I was telling everyone from outside Michigan, "You'd better hope what's happening here isn't a national trend." (Which, as it turned out ...)
posted by NorthernLite at 10:41 AM on May 24, 2013


Thinking about it, so much of Detroit's collection was picked up from European aristocracy in difficult financial circumstances, so maybe this is just the world turning as it always has.

Which is not to say I support selling-off. I think it's a terrible and shortsighted idea, for all kinds of reasons.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:43 AM on May 24, 2013


Pure M!ch!gan
posted by blackfly at 10:48 AM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nowling said that some creditors already have asked Orr whether the DIA collection is “on the table.” Nowling would not identify which creditors, but he said, “These are people savvy enough to know where all the money for the City of Detroit is.”

I'd love to know which creditors are asking about the art.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, go to Zillow.com and take a look at what Detroit's got on offer. Get on your bike in Google Streetview and look at the state of the place. It's an incredible American tragedy.

My god, if there was seriously any way I could get a basic guarantee of safety and the okay from my employer to work remotely... Incredible homes at a fraction of what I paid for my craftsman bungalow--and I live in an affordable location to begin with.

Then again, both of those conditions are exactly why these homes are going for those prices. It is a tragedy.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:56 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


a basic guarantee of safety and the okay from my employer to work remotely

Of course, those houses haven't been maintained either. You'd sink way more into them than the nominal price trying to rehab them.
posted by gerryblog at 11:00 AM on May 24, 2013


DIA says art collection a public trust, not for sale
posted by asciident at 11:03 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The cold wind I feel is probably Diego Rivera, spinning in his grave.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:12 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was unclear from the DIA’s brief statement what terms in the operating agreement between the museum and the city would prohibit such a sale.

And that presumes the operating agreement has the force of law.

I hate the idea of breaking this collection up, but I wonder realistically, if what we're doing here isn't simply winding down Detroit as a major city and making it slowly into a small, regional one.
posted by tyllwin at 11:12 AM on May 24, 2013


"First, how does a municipality (even a major municipality) rack up $15 billion in debt? California, the most populous state in the Union, owes about $70 billion in public works-related debt by comparison. "

Detroit has HUGE infrastructure costs, built on sprawl and supporting urban factories that no longer exist. Things like the Rouge River plant used to use a phenomenal amount of water, fer instance, and the current population isn't able to support that infrastructure, let along modernizing it.

Detroit is also constrained in its ability to annex surrounding areas — if Detroit was in California, it would have sucked up a lot of the suburbs and returned them to the tax base.

And, honestly, for a long time, Detroit was run by Coleman Young's machine and was incredibly corrupt.

"I'm not surprised that the emergency financial manager brought this possibility out, but it's pretty much his 'opening move' in public negotiations about how he is going to unilaterally fix our finances."

It's worth noting that the voters of Michigan rejected the emergency financial manager law, and the GOP controlled legislature forced it through against their wishes. But due to gerrymandering, the people of Michigan have no hope to boot those assholes out.

"They found their way into the Detroit Institute of the Arts in the first place because Detroit used to have a whole bunch of "the rich" who wanted to demonstrate their cultural sophistication. While I think it would be a terrible shame for the DIA to sell off its collection, it would largely be a transfer of works from "the rich" to "the rich"--with the broader public retaining pretty much the same access to the works as before."

Actually, the core of what makes the DIA a world-class collection — especially in German expressionism, where it has the best collection in the world — was that the curator during the '30s and '40s worked with Jews to get massive amounts of art out of Germany and away from the Nazis. There are certainly a fair number of donations from the rich, but for scholars, it's the collections that were built to keep "degenerate" works out of the bonfire and Jewish collections out of Hitler's hands.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


Selling off a portion of the collection seems like a good move. There are probably a number of works that don't circulate to other museums and are not regularly on display to the public. Then there are some that could be removed with a limited impact on the overall power of they museum. Budget for archivists and preservation is going to be tight. The alternative might be the work is lost.
posted by humanfont at 11:21 AM on May 24, 2013


I don't know what the rules would be about selling off the art, but it may not be possible anyway. It depends on the museum's rules - many do not allow deaccessioning, or only for a limited number of reasons (decay beyond restoration, in order to obtain a better example of the same thing, repatriation). And many donations may have been made with restrictive covenants.

I don't think that liquidating a museum collection has to be de facto unethical, but it would have damaging repercussions far beyond the immediate impact to the cultural life of those the museum serves, academic considerations and so on. Nobody wants to give a precious work of art to a collection that's going to flog it off to pay for the city sewerage, and who knows what would be safe in the future?

It may be possible to sell the museum to a charitable trust or other organisation with the wherewithal to maintain the collection and its role.

Probably best not to hand it over to the banks for boardroom decor, though.
posted by Devonian at 11:23 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Selling off a portion of the collection seems like a good move. There are probably a number of works that don't circulate to other museums and are not regularly on display to the public. "

No, it really doesn't. Especially since the DIA just completed a couple years back a massive renovation so that the vast majority of its collection is now available for viewing.

Sorry, man, it just sounds like you're retreating to a neoliberal solution because you don't know or care to know much about Detroit or the DIA.
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


No, it really doesn't. Especially since the DIA just completed a couple years back a massive renovation so that the vast majority of its collection is now available for viewing.

Yeah, this is a sunk cost fallacy.
posted by downing street memo at 11:39 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, it really doesn't. Especially since the DIA just completed a couple years back a massive renovation so that the vast majority of its collection is now available for viewing.

Yeah, this is a sunk cost fallacy.

No it isn't, it's a response to the person two comments up who wrote "Selling off a portion of the collection seems like a good move. There are probably a number of works that don't circulate to other museums and are not regularly on display to the public."
posted by gerryblog at 11:40 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are probably a number of works that don't circulate to other museums and are not regularly on display to the public.

With all due respect, and in addition to what klangklangston said above, given the size of Detroit's debt, I doubt selling off some prints or netsuke from the back is doing to have much of an impact, nor would it be of much interest to creditors. No, the pressure would be to obtain the most high-impact, high value artwork -- the Rembrandts, Brueghel, van Gogh's 'Postman' -- precisely those works of the Institute the public values most. If there's an opportunity to grab a Caravaggio, there will be plenty of people pressing to do just that.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:45 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'll also mention that when I had to write a journo-school story on their renovations about seven, eight years ago, the majority of their members are within the city of Detroit, and even if they're not — having something downtown that draws in people from the surrounding area is a GOOD THING. Selling it off because people in Grosse Point like it is cutting off your nose to spite your face.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Actually, the core of what makes the DIA a world-class collection — especially in German expressionism, where it has the best collection in the world — was that the curator during the '30s and '40s worked with Jews to get massive amounts of art out of Germany and away from the Nazis. There are certainly a fair number of donations from the rich, but for scholars, it's the collections that were built to keep "degenerate" works out of the bonfire and Jewish collections out of Hitler's hands.

That explains why the works were available cheap to collectors; it doesn't mean that the money that purchased them did not come from "the rich." W. R. Valentiner, the DIA's consultant and later director who helped them build their extraordinary collection of German Expressionist art throughout the 20s and 30s wasn't being given these paintings as some sort of Fahrenheit 451 mission of cultural preservation; some of them were sold off by the Nazis to raise funds for the German state, others were being sold by families in Germany desperate to raise funds. And the money that Valentiner had at his disposal was money that came from "the rich" in Detroit who were supporting the museum. I'm not saying it wasn't a jolly good think Valentiner bought what he did when he did, but the fact that the sellers were in distressed circumstances is pretty much the norm for large-scale cultural acquisitions of this kind.
posted by yoink at 11:46 AM on May 24, 2013


That's still a weird framing of anti-rich antipathy that ignores a real cultural significance.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus wept. Just remember y'all: Socialists are the looters.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:22 PM on May 24, 2013


What?
posted by klangklangston at 12:27 PM on May 24, 2013


Right now you've got an art museum in the middle of a bomb crater.

You know, there are many other parts of Detroit besides the ones with the hundred dollar houses. The core area around the art museum, in particular, has attracted over 10K+ jobs and residents since the end of the recession. We don't need to sell this stuff to fix the city's financial problems.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 12:42 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Klang. I was responding to the post and not to your comments. I commented before reading the thread because the very idea that anyone would even consider this made me white hot with rage.

I was thinking of the kind of Objectivist "libertarian" rentier who regards any collective action socialism and all taxation confiscatory looting. The kind of people who want nothing more than to privatize everything and sell off all public goods to the highest bidder so they can then collect rents on them. It made me angry.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:44 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shadenfreude, irony, or funny coincidence, but the recent acquistitons page depicts one piece,
a Courtly Amber Casket..
posted by snaparapans at 12:48 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an absolutely sensible thing to do. Companies often sell off fixed assets (like real-estate) and then rent them back when it makes more sense to invest the capital in something else. Hasn't anyone pawned anything before? It's what you do when you don't have other options.

Cultural value doesn't mean a whole lot to the retired teachers and members of the service unions who risk not getting their pension if the city declares bankruptcy. Securing those commitments - and not an art collection - would seem to be the responsible thing to do.
posted by three blind mice at 12:56 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's next? Selling the animals at the Detroit Zoo?

No, that would be terrible! *looks one way and then the other* Say, are you coming to the new Mayor's Inauguration BBQ? Everything on the menu tastes like chicken.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:02 PM on May 24, 2013


Right now you've got an art museum in the middle of a bomb crater.

There is some truth to this... Detroit was once a grand city, the "paris of the west", and it has fallen so hard that plenty of people just avoid it altogether even if they know there are pockets of revival in there somewhere. It's a strange place since it still has great buildings and boulevards, and art collections, but at the same time it has a lot of complete and utter destruction and hopelessness.

They've been trying for some time to just build it back up, but maybe it would make more sense to start over with a more moderate city. I mean, it's very sad, but it isn't going to be the paris of the west again. There's a lot of talk about making parks and farmland out of some of the abandoned areas. Maybe creating practical infrastructure by reducing their cultural import does make sense. Detroit's been stuck between worlds, like a rich person who went broke trying to live in an abandoned mansion. Maybe it's time to get realistic and just try to handle the basics.

We don't need to sell this stuff to fix the city's financial problems.

Well, i hope you're right that things are moving in the right direction already... but there is still a debt to deal with. I think it's sad but maybe should be seen as a new way to look at the city, rather than continuing to view it through a lens of a city that just won't exist again. History is important but it shouldn't impede progress.
posted by mdn at 1:07 PM on May 24, 2013


Cultural value doesn't mean a whole lot to the retired teachers and members of the service unions who risk not getting their pension if the city declares bankruptcy.

Somehow I doubt that teachers and service union members would be first in line to benefit from this.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:16 PM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cultural value doesn't mean a whole lot to the retired teachers and members of the service unions who risk not getting their pension if the city declares bankruptcy.

"We must loot the museums and sell off their contents, it's the only way to save the unions who we are determined to destroy!"

While I think it would be a terrible shame for the DIA to sell off its collection, it would largely be a transfer of works from "the rich" to "the rich"--with the broader public retaining pretty much the same access to the works as before.

For some value of "broader public," I suppose. However, if the point of the sale is to raise money, then I think it's likely that a lot of the art would return to private collections. There aren't many museums in the US (and probably not that many more in Canada or Europe) that can afford to buy first rate Rembrandts or Caravaggios or Kirchners or Kokoschkas at auction prices.

True, the history of art is practically the history of loot, but it's a lot more melancholy-making when it's your Rome that's being sacked.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:31 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


City: We need to pay all our public workers pensions. Let's promise to pay them billions of dollars in 30 years.
People: OK.

Twenty years later:
City: Hey guys, the retired public workers need their pensions now.
People: Ha ha, we moved just outside the city limits where you can't tax us, tricked you!

Basically that has happened in most big cities in America, although Detroit seems to have it worst of all.
posted by miyabo at 1:33 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Basically that has happened in most big cities in America, although Detroit seems to have it worst of all.

It seems to me there is a serious structural error in the way the US manages its levels of government - way too much power and responsibility is placed in local towns, counties, cities. Responsibilities for things like police and schools that could be handled much more efficiently and equitably, and with a broader tax base supporting them, if there were handled at the state government level instead. It might kill off some of these ridiculous city-vs-suburbs economic wars, too, if everyone were in the same boat.
posted by Jimbob at 2:41 PM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you see cars and freeways as the primary enablers and agents of destruction for North American cities, it makes sense that Motor City got it the worst. No less a tragedy though.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:09 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


"There is some truth to this... Detroit was once a grand city, the "paris of the west", and it has fallen so hard that plenty of people just avoid it altogether even if they know there are pockets of revival in there somewhere. It's a strange place since it still has great buildings and boulevards, and art collections, but at the same time it has a lot of complete and utter destruction and hopelessness."

Yeah, the thing is though, that it really is a myth that's been part of the pernicious failure of Detroit to reinvigorate itself — it's like if New York was still treated the same as it was in the '70s and '80s. Detroit actually has a lot more going for it, and really, I could even support an emergency manager if it wasn't coming out of the GOP's longstanding desire to destroy Detroit, since it's the only obstacle to total GOP control of Michigan. Like, there are hundreds of millions of uncollected taxes in Detroit, taxes that could help revitalize the government and help re-establish it. But what Kwame did when his controller confronted him about the massive amounts of unpaid taxes was to cut the controller's budget — the very guy who is responsible for collecting those taxes.
posted by klangklangston at 3:27 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a school child, I was taken to the Detroit Institute of Art many times. It was my first exposure to great art, and let's be clear: it's a fine collection, and an exhilarating collection for young poor children to see. And the Diego Rivera: It's one of the great things that specifically belongs to Michigan and specifically belongs to Detroit. It is madness to sell any of it.
posted by acrasis at 4:11 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imported From Detroit, Nicole Aschoff, Jacobin, April 2013
And so the fundamental problem with Chrysler’s ad campaign is not its claim that it and Detroit are on the road to recovery together, or that its recovery is the result of some Heartland work ethic that most Americans have forgotten. These are stories designed to make us feel good, to make us believe that working hard will get you somewhere, and that we just need to work harder for things to get back to the way they used to be. But deep down we know that hard work isn’t the secret ingredient. Americans have never stopped working hard. Average productivity has increased roughly 2 percent every year since 1990, even during the crisis, while manufacturing productivity increased over 3 percent each year during the same period.

No, the big lie perpetuated by Chrysler’s stories is that its recovery is America’s recovery, like Charlie Wilson’s persistently misquoted but nonetheless pervasive remark that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” This is simply not true anymore. Corporate America might be recovering, but working people aren’t. For corporate America to recover, the rest of us have to take a pay cut or lose our job, our pension, our health insurance, our home, our time with our family. Recovered profits aren’t trickling down to create decent jobs or pay workers back for concessions.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:04 PM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Inside|Out, now in its second year, brings 80 reproductions of masterpieces from the DIA’s collection to the streets and parks of greater metro Detroit, pleasantly surprising and delighting residents of the participating communities. Where possible, the works will be clustered within walking or biking distance of each other in a grand, open-air gallery.
Maps and more info are available here. Art is For Everyone FAQ, produced for the mileage campaign, is here.

Selling the collection would be an egregious breach of ethics that would probably prevent any future major donations of art and funds and probably major loan agreements as well. It probably won't happen, but it's a shame that anyone would suggest it at all.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:23 PM on May 24, 2013


More deaccessioning in the news, from a very different perspective:
Due to limited storage space and evolving collecting philosophy, the museum staff has decided to “deaccession,” or remove from its collection, all but one of Smol’s works. Visitors will be able to vote on which one they would like the museum to keep, and curatorial staff will take those votes into consideration.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:28 PM on May 24, 2013


More deaccessioning in the news, from a very different perspective:

That type of selling work from museum collection to buy new art is kosher and quite common:
Proceeds, if the works is sold, must be used for acquisitions, to prevent monetizing the collection. Violation of appropriate deaccessioning procedure can lead to sanctions by such professional organizations as the Association of Art Museum Directors...
The DIA threat is not by the museum but by the city, which is not the typical scandal that occurs around Museum deaccessioning. What is looked down on and is controversial, is when the museum sells work to pay for operating expenses, or in the recent case of the American Folk Art Museum to pay debt.
... the mere mention of art sales for operating money turns some purists purple with apoplexy, and could restart the uproar that occurred last year when Brandeis University bruited but backtracked from the idea of selling works from its Rose Art Museum, eventually prompting Jehuda Reinharz, the university president, to step down. Just before that, the National Academy Museum sold two Hudson River School paintings to pay its bills, eliciting tough sanctions from the normally hands-off Association of Art Museum Directors....

Many people don’t understand the problem. If the choice is between allowing a museum to fail (or make crippling cutbacks) and selling some art, what’s the big deal? Sell art!

The big deal is this: the strict constructionists believe that once selling art to cover operating costs is allowed, it will become the first resort in bad times, not the last.
NYT

The American Folk Art Museum eventually sold its building to MOMA (who scandalously plan to tear it down), and planned to sell their vast and outstanding collection of Folk Art and end its 50 year run. They could have sold work to save the museum but the Public Trust would have been dishonored. What happens to the public trust, when the museum has to close completely? That is the big question around strict rules of deaccessioning. Eventually they were able to move back to their old location one sixth the size.

Rose Museum at Brandies scandal shared more with the DIA in that Brandeis owned the Museum and needed money to pay teachers and expenses. They decided to shut down the museum and sell all the art.. after lawsuits and much controversy, no art was sold and the Museum reopened and remains open today.
posted by snaparapans at 8:28 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I should have been more clear-- I'm well-aware of the different issues around deaccessioning, I just thought the Georgia article laid out their plan with a lot of thought and through an interesting community-focused exhibit. Very different from Detroit but touching upon some of the ethics involved.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:11 PM on May 24, 2013


Philadelphia History Museum deaccession to raise funds for building renovation..
In doing so the museum stepped into the quicksand of murky rules, guidelines and ethical strictures meant to discourage museums everywhere from selling collections to pay bills. It is one of the hottest issues in the museum world today. With budgets shrinking in a bad economy, the pressure to generate revenue is growing along with fears that museums are squandering public trusts meant to preserve the artifacts of the past for future generations.
A snapshot of some of the issues currently being debated:

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: PANELISTS DEBATE MUSEUM DEACCESSIONING
posted by snaparapans at 9:55 PM on May 24, 2013


Jimbob: "It seems to me there is a serious structural error in the way the US manages its levels of government - way too much power and responsibility is placed in local towns, counties, cities. Responsibilities for things like police and schools that could be handled much more efficiently and equitably, and with a broader tax base supporting them, if there were handled at the state government level instead. It might kill off some of these ridiculous city-vs-suburbs economic wars, too, if everyone were in the same boat."

It's the same problem states have. I know many people who live just across the state line in South Carolina yet work in North Carolina for tax reasons. The same applies to living in Texas and working in Oklahoma (or, even better, having a legal address in Texas, working in Texas, but living in Oklahoma). Clark County, Washington has a rather sunk retail industry because people who live in Washington scoot across the border into Oregon and pay no sales tax.

Ultimately, if people don't see value in living wherever, they won't live in that place, especially if the benefits of being inside the city--jobs, cultural activities, etc--are perceived as being just as available outside it. "The big city" used to be a place to thrive, both culturally and financially. Now it isn't seen like that, or rather hasn't been for several years, so we get the rise of the suburbs. Some of those suburbs are now taking their own place as smaller "big cities," yet without the support structure (transit, social services), history (pensions, civil service), and municipal income to move beyond being office parks with attached cookie-cutter housing. That's not going to change, even if we pooled all cities into their respective counties. It will take people remembering that much of what we take for granted costs money and is routinely provided by government.
posted by fireoyster at 1:32 AM on May 25, 2013


Responsibilities for things like police and schools that could be handled much more efficiently and equitably, and with a broader tax base supporting them, if there were handled at the state government level instead

I know you mean well here, but the experience of many places has been that the whole "broader tax base" thing has meant incorporating more conservative suburban areas into the decision-making process, and what they are most interested in is keeping taxes low, with the result that they are effectively draining the resources of the urban center while still being dependent on its infrastructure and jobs. The public safety and infrastructure of the city proper declines, the jobs move out to the "better managed" suburbs, and large swathes of the city proper become ghetto or wasteland.

It isn't, as noted above, that the city wasn't managed properly -- it's that the money to support the city moved away.

Now, in Wisconsin, I'll address the schools issue. We had a bipartisan consensus beginning in the 1970s that the state needed to be the source of "property tax relief", i.e. a combination of tax credits for individuals and shared revenues for municipalities and school districts. This had the effect of broadening the tax base and reducing inequities between districts -- now they could spend more realistically based on per-student costs rather than per-taxpayer-steaming-ear-levels. The downside here was that places like Milwaukee saw spending per student skyrocket without much improvement in educational attainment, even though many non-urban districts succeeded where Milwaukee failed. But the current GOP mantra is to take away the shared revenue and cap the property taxes so that even localities that wish to tax themselves more, through the ballot box, simply can't. It's a way of screwing the "liberal", "free-spending" communities to the wall, so that conservatives can keep budgets low even where they can't get elected for love or money.

It's all well and good to speak of old-school Progressive goo-goo (good-government) ways of structuring such things, but the reality is more subject to old divisions and ingrained red-blue types of politics than we'd like.

(Anyway, there are 50+ ways that "the US manages" local spending because these things are mostly up to the states. No, they don't usually differ all that much, but there's no realistic way that Congress could just change such things nationally. Again with Wisconsin, we have an unusual amount of control for rural townships (divisions of counties), a level of government whose value I often question seeing it up close.)
posted by dhartung at 3:18 AM on May 25, 2013


The debate continues:

An Investment Banker looking out for the poor and defenseless:
But Kenneth Buckfire, a New York investment banker hired by the City of Detroit in January and who is advising Orr on potential tactics, said the cultural and emotional value of the DIA’s treasures must be weighed against the needs of 700,000 largely poor residents of Detroit who desperately need safe streets and a capable city government not drowning in debt.
A Museum Director makes a statement:
Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one the largest and most prestigious museums in the world, issued a statement Friday capturing the depth of the despair in the art community and beyond. “Even in the darkest days of New York City’s fiscal crisis of 1975, and the national economic meltdown of 2008, the cultural treasures closely identified with our own city were never on the table — never considered an asset that might be cashed-in during a crunch to bridge a negative balance sheet,” Campbell said.
Buckfire, Campbell, Buckfire, Campbell, Buckfire, Campbell, Buckfire, Campbell, Buckfire, Campbell, Buckfire, Campbell....? hmmmmmmm

I think I will go with Campbell.
posted by snaparapans at 8:28 AM on May 29, 2013


State senate votes to keep DIA off limits. Not that that necessarily ends the question, but, one layer of protection anyway.
posted by mdn at 7:36 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not off limits because the State Senate voted... because the House postponed the vote until after summer recess.. In order to make the Senate vote binding the House has to vote and pass it as well. Does not look like that is going to happen.
the state House of Representatives has no plans to take up the bill before members leave for a two-month summer break later this month.....
Even if it passes and Gov. Rick Snyder signs the bill it may not stand up in Federal Bankruptcy court.
posted by snaparapans at 7:50 AM on June 13, 2013


Attorney General Bill Schuette has said in a formal opinion that the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts is not vulnerable to being sold to pay off any of Detroit's debt.

Schuette’s 22-page opinion that selling DIA art would run afoul of charitable trust law in Michigan does not settle the legal issues. But at least one lawyer who specializes in art and cultural history issues said it provides persuasive support for the museum, and marks the state’s top law enforcement official as an ally should the conflict wind up in court....

...Schuette’s opinion was issued in response to a request by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, who has introduced legislation that mirrors museum-world standards that prohibit the sale of art for any reason other than buying other art or otherwise enhancing the collection. The bill was approved by the Senate last week, but is not expected to be taken up by the House before legislators leave for summer vacation.

Bankruptcy experts have told the Free Press that the law probably wouldn’t create an effective firewall in a bankruptcy proceeding because federal law generally trumps state law.

Michael Rush, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, said the support of a sympathetic state attorney general in Massachusetts was key to turning back a controversial plan hatched in 2009 by administrators at Brandeis University to sell off the school’s stellar collection at the Rose Art Museum.
posted by snaparapans at 7:48 AM on June 14, 2013


Detroit is going to stop making payments on its debt. It will use default as a strategy to either avoid bankruptcy or as a strategy to enter into a pre-packaged bankruptcy. They are looking at paying 10 cents on the dollar to creditors. In either case:
Much of Detroit's debt is insured, giving bondholders protection against defaults. Two of the insurers, National Public Finance Guarantee Corp, a unit of MBIA and Assured Guaranty Ltd AGO.N, confirmed they attended the meeting.

“In the event that debt service payments by the City of Detroit are interrupted, National will ensure that its policyholders receive all of their principal and interest payments on time and in full,” spokesman Kevin Brown said.
posted by snaparapans at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2013


Back and between the libertarians who argue against the idea of a "Public Trust" and selling the DIA collection.. and defenders the "Public Trust" arguing that the DIA collection should be off limits.

Don Zaretsky and Felix Solomon.
posted by snaparapans at 6:41 AM on June 20, 2013


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