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Detroit Institute of Arts Has A Future — UPDATED

Voters in Michigan have given the Detroit Institute of Arts a ten-year lifeline. Local reports, including this one in  the Detroit Free Press, say the milage tax passed easily in Wayne and Oakland counties, and by a very slim margin in Macomb county.

That’s good enough: the DIA will now receive about $23 million a year from locals, and Graham Beal, the director, told me two weeks ago that “the tax is levied in December, and we will start getting funds in January.”

It wasn’t easy, though: As Mark Stryker of the Free Press posted in an online story that when I read it was timed at 5:53 p.m. yesterday, supporters of the millage, which I explained here and here, were making calls seeking support among voters in Macomb — rightly so. DIA  Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson, told Stryker: “We’ve been phone banking every day and every night for the past 10 days. Right now we have 13 volunteers making calls.” She said she was “really nervous” because the results all depended on turnout.

But the end — more about which in a minute — must have been sweet. The DIA had worked hard, getting endorsements from the Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business, the local Chamber of Commerce and dozens of unions, as well as the Free Press.

In July, it  had printed an editorial, Don’t Let the DIA Shut Down, that began, “Losing the Detroit Institute of Arts is not an option.” (That photo, above, was published alongside the edit online.) Later, it noted:

Consider the alternative. Michigan would have to live with the shame of mothballing a collection that still ranks among the top six in the country. Some of the museum’s finest pieces might travel as part of special exhibitions, accessible in distant cities but not in their hometown. Others, including the world-renowned Rivera Court, might simply disappear from public view or be available only on a tightly restricted schedule.

The edit recounts much of the back story (which I also covered) and then hits hard:

This is the time to commit, as a region, to maintaining more than a century’s worth of artwork, much of it in the form of gifts from some of the region’s most renowned families, and to ensuring that it can be viewed for as many hours a day as possible. More than 4 million people — young families just starting out, schoolchildren, senior citizens and many others with tight budgets — would be able to walk in freely whenever and as often as they choose to do so….

A great art collection like this can expand the horizons of children. Sometimes a single piece can rearrange how you see the world….

Adults, too. 

Of course, the DIA’s fundraising work continues — ideally, it should have a $400 million operating endowment, to throw off about $20 million a year. That now stands at about $89 million. The DIA has used $300 million as a goal, according to other press reports, but I hope it can aim higher.  

UPDATE: Today, the DIA website extends three big THANK YOUs to residents of the three counties — plus that Love button  — and is already offering them free admission and other benefits.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Free Press


  1. Art E. Misia says

    Now that the voting is over, I hope we never hear again from this whining, carpetbagging, snake oil salesman named Mark White. He’s admitted that his idea has never been tested but he has beaten the dead horse into a fine powder by posting the same crap on every website that mentions the DIA. His biggest interest in the proposal was to carve out a place for himself as a consultant. If the DIA were a woman, it would feel like Jodie Foster.

    • Art E. Misia says

      That is, Jodie Foster being stalked by John Hinckley…

      • Discussing the DIA is an important public issue of public policy since the City of Detroit owns its multi-billion dollar art collection not in trust for the public but as public property to be managed for the public’s benefit. Linda Sugin points out that a university’s priorities for its art collection may differ from a museum’s, and that its higher obligation is as a university. A city’s obligations similarly differ, so museums managing city art collections might appropriately seek accomodations rather than insist on the strict application of strictures for private museums. In the midst of this public policy discussion, anonymous ad hominem attacks appear claiming that the DIA should feel stalked. I’d say that if anyone is being a stalker, it is that anonymous ad hominem attacker, and that anyone using or endorsing such attacks undermines any claims they have to address public policy. Do you have any ideas, Artemisia, or are you pure vituperation?

        • Art E. Misia says

          It’s not for me to have any ideas. I supported the DIA’s request for the millage, and I voted in favor of it. Did you vote? Of course not, because you don’t even live in Michigan, let alone the tri-county area!

          No one is stalking you, it’s just become impossible to avoid you since you post on every single story that appears. I , for one, would love to never see your posts again. This issues seems to have become more about your wanting to position yourself as an arts rights administrator (not for free, I bet) than acting in a way that benefits the public, the works of art, or museums. You’ve not proven – even tested – the validity of your claims. Have you even had an audience with the DIA’s board of directors?

          Furthermore, I have to wonder if you have permission from the DIA to use the photo of the Monet painting on your web page (they own the copyright on the image, yes?).

          • Ok, enough of this — both of you are going over the edge with respect to my comment policy.

          • Both? I just asked Artemisia if it had any comment about ideas as opposed to personalities, and it went straight back to vituperation. Suppressing discussion is its objective, clearly, since discussion might lead to innovation and innovation is bad because everything worthwhile is already in practice in this best of all possible worlds. You don’t want to let Artemisia suppress ideas here, do you, Judy? I am more than happy to engage on ideas, facts or even the rules of logic and decorum with my anonymous interlocutor if you’ll allow that.

          • Yes, both of you are pushing it (read the policy). Discussion can and should be civil, germane, etc.

          • Art E. Misia says

            My apologies, Judith. I was not meaning to appear uncivil.

            With Mr. White making himself the embodiment of his cause, of course it’s going to seem to him like a personal attack when his ideas are criticized. His accusations of that, and of my – or your – wanting to suppress ideas is a smokescreen. He has been trumpeting his ideas for months now and verges on a tantrum when people disagree (in other forums). If I had a better idea than a millage for the DIA’s funding, I would put that forth, however the fact is that a large enough number of people agreed with this move to vote it into existence – people who actually live in the area and are affected by the millage. Mr. White does not live in the area, therefore he was not a voter. In that sense, the comment about carpetbagging is not out-of-line. It’s not name calling when it fits the definition.

            From all I’ve read, meaning what Mr. White has posted, he cannot back up his theory with any successful application of it. It’s not even clear if he’s ever managed to present them to the Detroit administration or the DIA’s. If he has, they’ve obviously found his ideas unworthy of consideration. Yet he goes on and on, repetitively – and that verges on crackpot behavior. Anyone can talk of perpetual motion machines, of teleportation, and of 200 MPG gasoline engines. That doesn’t mean they will ever come to be.

            Lastly, my question of whether he obtained permission to use the Monet painting on his web page is relevant by suggesting that if he doesn’t respect copyrights, how can he expect – demand – that others respect them? If he is using it with permission, from where did he obtain it?

          • You’re absolutely right about civil and germane discussion, which is why Artemisia’s opening salvo came as a surprise to me here. Would you call “whining, carpetbagging, snake oil salesman” civil and germane, or anything other than vituperation? If I’ve engaged in anything other than fair comment on Artemisia’s tenor and topic, I apologize. Let’s stick with ideas, not personalities. I do believe the DIA has much more to offer Detroit, and that offering Detroit much more will truly save the DIA from risks that it still faces. Am I wrong? Ideas matter in answering that question, not motives or personalities. That’s what’s great about a civil, germane discussion

          • That’s it — this conversation between the two of you is now over.

  2. Detroit owns its DIA art collection, Judy, so the DIA isn’t truly saved until the City no longer faces bankruptcy. That’s because Detroit’s art collection will be the first non-essential asset on the bankruptcy auction block (cities need assets like police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, so those aren’t subject to Chapter 9 liquidation; paintings, not so much). Right now, Detroit’s already in default, and only forbearance by bond trustee Bank of America Merrill Lynch keeps it out of court — and that forbearance may be wearing pretty thin after the Michigan Supreme Court suspended the legal basis for Michigan’s Detroit rescue plan. And even if Detroit somehow avoids bankruptcy, the City can opt out of the DIA Operating Agreement in 2018 and take over direct management of its DIA from the DIA Founders Society. Depending on Detroit’s leadership, that could change how the place runs quite a bit, since a city is not a museum and may have very different priorities for the multi-billion dollar financial reserve that its DIA art collection constitutes.

    • I don’t think you are correct, Mark — I believe the agreement with the city prohibits a sale of the art, even in bankruptcy.

      • Bankruptcies cancel existing contracts, so it’s hard to see how the DIA Operating Agreement survives as especially a bankruptcy court. How would you explain that?

        • Both of us would have to examine the documents, and neither have. Now I agree with the commenter who has tired of your posts.

          • It would’ve been helpful for the DIA or Detroit to post the DIA Operating Agreement on the Web, but it’s only available to DIA library visitors, to my knowledge.. Still, even if the contract says bankruptcy rules don’t apply, bankruptcy throws that out. You deserve a lot of credit for addressing these issues at all — most museum people feel no obligation to engage ideas other than their own, much less allow them in a forum they control. Stay engaged, Judy, for your readers sake and your own. Ideas are important.

          • Graham Beal addressed the bankruptcy issue in this morning’s Free Press live chat:

            Several people in the comments section of various DIA-related articles seemed to indicate concern that, were the City to go bankrupt, the DIA may be forced to liquidate its collection as assets of the city. While I’ve heard that this is not the case, who does own the DIA’s collection, and is it completely safe from liquidation for financial reasons?
            by TigerInSTL 8/10/2012 9:39 AM

            Hi TigerlnSTL – Although the city indeed own the collection, under the current operating agreement, the DIA has total discretion over it. In the event of a bankruptcy, things get legally cloudy, but I feel confident, for various reasons, “Ain’t gonna happen.”
            by Graham Beal 8/10/2012 9:48 AM

            Arguably safe? Yes, but arguably not safe either. Completely safe? No. Perhaps it’s better to head off a bankruptcy.



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  2. […] Detroit Institute of Arts Has A Future — UPDATED Art E. Misia says: August 8, 2012 at 10 … of Detroit owns its multi-billion dollar art collection not in trust for the public but as public property to … its DIA … More… […]

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