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Progress (but no closure) in “Grand Bargain” to Protect Detroit Institute’s Art

Graham Beal, director of Detroit Institute of Arts,, addressing AAMD's midwinter meeting Photo from @MuseumDirectors Twitter feed

Graham Beal, director of Detroit Institute of Arts,, addressing AAMD’s midwinter meeting today
Photo from @MuseumDirectors Twitter feed

The Detroit Institute of Arts has just issued the following statement regarding today’s announcement by the federal mediator, Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen, that some $330 million has been pledged by local and national foundations (identified at the above link) to support the “Grand Bargain” to prevent sales from the Detroit Institute of Arts’ treasured collection to help address the city’s financial crisis:

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is an active partner in the effort to develop a solution that will assist in the revitalization of the City of Detroit and safeguard the museum’s collection.

The DIA has been working actively with U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen and attorney Eugene Driker, the appointed mediators in Detroit’s bankruptcy, to ensure the success of a fundraising effort that will ultimately provide protection for the DIA art collection and much-needed financial assistance for the City.

The DIA’s long and strong relationship with national and local foundations has contributed to their willingness to provide the financial framework for this plan, and the museum has committed to providing both fundraising support and programming to the effort [emphasis added].

The DIA is engaged in developing the operational framework for this agreement and would like to commend all those involved on making significant progress in a very short time. Final details of the agreement are still in development and will be released by the mediators and the team when available.

The DIA encourages those who wish to support this effort financially to contribute to the Fund to Support Detroit‘s Retirees, Cultural Heritage and Revitalization by going to the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan’s website at  Public support is welcome and deeply appreciated at this critical moment in the negotiations.

Bear in mind, though, that if you join the approximately 130 who have already contributed to the above-linked fund and the Grand Bargain doesn’t pan out, your money will go to “support other charitable programs and public charities that will benefit the City of Detroit’s retirees, cultural heritage, financial health and revitalization,” according to the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan’s website. If your sole goal is to protect the DIA’s art, that could be a problem.

John Gallagher and Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press provide some caveats:

U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen’s statement made clear that the pledges do not by themselves mean that pensions and DIA art are now beyond the reach of creditors. Rather, the commitments are intended and expected to play a part in what Rosen’s statement called “an overall balanced settlement of disputes in the bankruptcy.”

In other words, there is no deal until all the various claims in the broader bankruptcy case have been settled. And the foundations’ support is contingent upon all their money [emphasis added] going to support the twin goals of helping fill the unfunded gap in Detroit’s municipal pension obligations and protecting the DIA art collection from possible sale to pay the city’s creditors.

Even with today’s announcement, the “cloud of unknowing” (as Graham Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, describes the uncertainty that surrounds him regarding deliberations over the museum’s fate) has not yet lifted: Today Beal told the midwinter meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors that he still has “never met the emergency manager”and that the Grand Bargain negotiations to protect the museum’s collections from being sold to help address the city’s financial shortfalls “have happened around us” (but have been enthusiastically endorsed by the DIA).

So far, the Grand Bargain’s proponents haven’t completed the difficult task of coming up with the $500 million that Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager, has said he wants as the DIA’s contribution towards addressing the city’s financial crisis. Raising as much money as possible before Orr enunciates his own plan for Detroit’s financial future has been the DIA supporters’ goal.

But as I suggested in my NPR commentary on the Grand Bargain, “foundation money is limited, and there’s still a question whether even Detroit can raise that much [the full $500 million], notwithstanding all the sympathy they have out there in the community.” It’s a very tight window for raising half a billion.

Still, fundraising continues, and there could be an ace in the hole: Governor Rick Snyder has indicated that he might support the allocation of state funds to help protect the museum’s collection. For that to happen, legislative support might be needed.

According to another Free Press article—Deal Could Come as Early as Today to Protect DIA Art, Detroit Pensioners:

Some sources said the state’s share could be as high as $100 million, paid over 10 or 20 years; other sources have said the amount being asked of state officials was lower.

The situation is far from resolved, but at least things appear to be moving in the right direction. Selling the community’s cherished masterpieces for short-term gain would be an irreversible long-term loss.

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