The fiscal crisis in Detroit has garnered much national attention, particularly in the last few weeks with the discussion of the possibility that the Detroit Institute of Arts would have to liquidate its collection to generate enough revenue to satisfy Detroit’s creditors.
The city’s new emergency financial manager, Kevyn Orr, has warned that this might be one solution to the problem, and state legislators and backers of the DIA have mobilized to keep this from becoming a reality. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently issued an opinion that, “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.” Further he writes:
In issuing this opinion, I recognize the serious financial hardships that face the city, the difficulties that the people who live and work in the City have endured for decades, and the many challenges facing the citizens of the City of Detroit and the State in the future. Yet, 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.
While a sale of the items in the DIA’s collection might work in the short term, in the long term, it would be quite detrimental to the residents of the city and its surrounding suburbs. Institutions such as the DIA were established so that everyone would be able to have access to works of art, no matter their social class or lot in life. Selling these items only robs the people of the city of this access. Further, there is the possibility that these pieces could end up in the hands of private collectors, who very often tend to be very wealthy. This defeats the entire purpose of art itself; art is created for everyone’s enjoyment, not for the pleasure of the select few who can afford to collect it. To even think of depriving the residents of the city and its surrounding suburbs of the DIA art collection and the advantages it can offer is shameful, and it’s unfair that the citizens of Detroit, who have already been punished enough by circumstances beyond their control, should be penalized further.