In Detroit, the art of the deal: Residents say, hands off our museum

Updated

Detroit, which owes creditors more than $18 billion, needs every penny it can get. But officials in the region have made it clear to the city’s emergency managers that if they try to sell the city’s art, they’ll lose the money they get from a tax deal.

In a vote Tuesday, Oakland County officials unanimously approved a resolution to cut funding to the Detroit Institute of Arts if the city tries to sell off artworks from its prized collection or divert money from the museum’s budget in order to pay off creditors.

The threat, issued by the Oakland County Art Institute Authority, argued such a move by Detroit officials would “terminate any obligation” to provide support because it violates last year’s “tax millage” vote.

Under that vote, residents of three surrounding counties–Oakland, Macomb and Wayne (which includes Detroit)–agreed to pay higher property taxes to help maintain the DIA; they receive free admission to the museum.

Making things even more complicated, many of the masterpieces were also donated with the understanding the museum would be a haven for the pieces, not a pit stop on the road to the auction block. It’s a potential nightmare for lawyers and the art world.

Despite hiring Christie’s to formally appraise its priceless collection, Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said there are no current plans to get rid of anything. But, he said assessing the collection’s value–estimated at $2.5 billion, at least–is “an integral part of the restructuring process.”

Through the tax levy, Oakland County residents have brought in nearly $9.8 million for the DIA.

“It is our responsibility to be proactive in protecting the intent of Oakland County voters,” said Oakland County Board Chairman Michael J. Gingell in a press release. “Our hope is that the DIA remain intact and that it does not become part of the bankruptcy proceedings. We value the museum as a regional asset but should it or the art be used as part of the remedy in bankruptcy then we can no longer provide the millage funding from Oakland County.”

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In Detroit, the art of the deal: Residents say, hands off our museum

Updated