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In Re: DIA — The Moral Of The Michigan Vote Story

The Michigan State Senate took the high road today, and therein lies a moral for not only politicians around the country but also the art world.

Mich-Senate-voteMarshalling support from left and right, the suite of bills required to enable the so-called Grand Bargain to rescue Detroit, its pensioners and the Detroit Institute of Arts sailed through the senate “with large bi-partisan majorities” and now goes to Republican Governor Rick Snyder to sign. Said the Detroit Free Press:

Passage of the bills was a seminal moment in the city’s historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy process, and will strengthen the possiblity of a successful reorganization and emergence.

With the state’s contribution in hand, the city will have extra leverage in pushing pensioners and creditors to accept a settlement, pensioners will have added assurance that their retirement savings will be secure and the federal judge overseeing the proceedings will have firmer ground on which to base his rulings. It was a huge win — though the fight is far from over and now moves back to Detroit.

But the best part came next in that article — in two parts:

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville [at right], R-Monroe, called the package of nine bills a “smart, conservative decision,” that will help ease cuts to pensioners, save the artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts from sale, and shields the state from future lawsuits regarding the bankruptcy — a major incentive for lawmakers.

Missing from the package was a bill that would have prohibited the DIA from seeking a renewal of a millage to support the museum or asking for a new one.

Not only did the senate refrain from muzzling voters in the three counties surrounding Detroit in future plebiscites, but also Richardville said the right thing, calling the bills smart and conservative. One of my fondest wishes is that many more conservatives around the country would recognize the public value of the arts, with money or recognition or both. (Not that all Democrats do.)

As for the art world, it should learn from this too. Far too often, the art world writes off the entire Republican party (I’m not talking tea party here) completely and with needless disdain. In my many years of reporting, some sources, who’ve always wanted (needed?) to remain anonymous, have told me they’ve been shunned for, say, performing at the Bush White House or even engaging in conversation with Republicans. Recently, George W. Bush’s paintings unhinged some critics (and by that I do not necessarily mean professional critics — Roberta Smith, you may recall, told everyone to “get a grip, especially those in the art world who dismiss the paintings without even seeing them“).

But it simply doesn’t make sense to make enemies needlessly. There will always be times when the arts need public support from — yes — the right side of the aisle. Maybe just at the margins, maybe not “large bi-partisan” votes, maybe votes that have all kinds of political motives. Who cares? It still pays to keep communication channels open and to listen to the other side. Even if you think they are dead wrong. They don’t have to know that.

Here’s the story, btw, from The Detroit News.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Detroit News


  1. You are too kind in your praise of Michigan’s Republican lead government. They, in fact are the cause of all this ruckus. It was the republican led house that for years looked and acted disdainfully toward anything the Democratic led city of Detroit did or tried to do or needed to do. It was our republican governor who created the controversial Emergency Manager position whose legal power usurps all voter control of Detroit’s bankruptcy. The voter’s of Detroit have absolutely no say over the plans formulated by this republican appointed manager.
    Yet, the republicans passed, in a blink of an eye, a $500 million dollar tax abatement for a new hockey stadium while making a big dramatic display over a $195 million dollar payout.

    But here is the big mystery question you should ask the republican’s- Who tied the Detroit pension fund to the art work in the DIA? Who was it that made that emotional and controversial decision? Why aren’t any of the other assets the city owns, Belle Isle, the Water Dept, Fort Wayne, the Zoo, involved in the plan to pay the promised pensions? And why did the republican led legislators, quietly pass a bill that turned the city owned park on Belle Isle immediately into a State Park, which the State now will invest money in to maintain and run, but fail to make the same rescue attempt for the DIA?
    Why? Because the truth is after all the grandstanding that took place over this $195 million dollar decision the republicans don’t care about the DIA. They just as soon see the whole museum privatized.

    • Well, I’d just as soon see the DIA privatized too! Second, the Republican stance on Detroit is totally explainable by politics: look at the voting maps from the last many elections. The city goes overwhelmingly and consistently Democratic. You can’t blame only Republicans for doing what all politicians do.

      • It’s not the democrats who have been systematically trying to kill unions, destroyer workers benefits, end publics schools and teachers unions here in Michigan. The republican’s have.
        This is about the republican led state distancing itself from legal obligation to be responsible for pension fund contracts should the city be unable to fulfill them. The banks got their money, why shouldn’t retired workers?

        • Clearly, you are taking a political stance here and that is exactly what I think should be suspended for now. The art world should appreciate what bipartisanship in the Michigan legislature has done – that’s the point. However, it seems to me that if you intend to blame Republicans for all state ills, it’s worth noting that Detroit was run by Democrats for decades.

    • Joe Donovan says:

      The problem in Michigan/Detroit politics has been holding on to the past for too long and finger pointing. I do not care if the GOP or the Dems created the mess, I just want it fixed now. If you are not part of the solution today, you are part of the problem tomorrow, Richard.

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