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A Few Words About the Detroit Institute of Arts

I know some of you are all caught up in the goings-on in Detroit and are wondering why I’m not commenting. It’s simple, really: while this is serious to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and director Graham Beal must take it seriously, I’ve always believe that the DIA is simply caught up in a local political dance that, at some point (hopefully soon), will end without a single piece of art being sold. As it should. But the politics has to play out, and hang-wringing won’t help.

detroit-institute-ofA friend of mine has been sending me links to all the Detroit coverage, and unfortunately I don’t think reporters have yet figured out exactly what game is being played here behind the scenes.

Today, the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette put out what Eden Burgess, a lawyer at Cultural Heritage Partners in Washington, D.C., said in the Detroit Free Press was “a strong opinion” saying that the state cannot legally sell the art in question. This is good, and welcome, though apparently it doesn’t end the legal issues. But it may be the beginning of the end, or at least the end of the beginning.

So what can one do?

Surprisingly, there’s no petition against the sale on, and not much support for the one I discovered at, which currently has just 8,539 signatures, or the one at, which has just 243 signatures at the moment. You can sign it.

I’ve checked the public pulse at Facebook, where the DIA now has 223,000 “likes,” which is far about the nearly 116,000 it had in April 2012, after a concerted campaign. There, supporters are out. You can join them.

One big, seemingly untapped source of support is the business community is — I have not found any statements against the sale. But what if Ford, General Motors, and all the other companies, large and small, stated just how important it is to have a vibrant cultural sector for economic purposes? If you’re a shareholder, ask them.

Unfortunately, I still think it’s a waiting game for those of us who do not live in Detroit and can’t vote. But perhaps even a symbolic gesture would help.



  1. While a SVP at The Kreisberg Group, I had the pleasure of working on a project that involved the DIA. THE DIA was a beneficiary of The Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation a program initiated by then, CEO John Bryan to donate rather than sell most of its private art collection to museums where they had business interests.

    Working closely with each museum we executed a series of programs leveraging the gift and advancing each museum’s objectives. The DIA used the platform to activate greater corporate giving. John Bryan, along with the mayor of Detroit, hosted a breakfast forum advocating supporting local arts and culture as a prudent business action. As a result, the DIA increased its corporate support. But that was in the late ‘90s. Perhaps that was one-time serge that wasn’t sustained over time. Perhaps those who contributed as a result of that event could be reminded to become a vocal part of the dialogue currently unfolding in Detroit.

  2. Here’s the link on

    Here’s the link to the petition against this sale, which already has over 8000 signatures. Seems like it is worth signing that as well, to get that to it goal of 10,000.

    I agree that the politics needs to play out, but hey, citizens are the SOUL of politics, and our comments help determine how the politics unfolds. Our job is to make it impossible for politicians to hide when they do scurrilous things. So let’s keep working to make that happen.

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