Friday, May 24, 2013

Detroit's Emergency Financial Manager asks for appraisal of DIA's collection

As the Detroit Free Press article began, "The once unthinkable is suddenly thinkable."  WXYZ gives a video executive summary.

Kim Russell reports on Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr asking for an appraisal of the DIA's collection.
That's the overview.  Follow over the jump for the details from the Detroit Free Press.

More from today's article.
Liquidating DIA art to pay down debt likely would be a monstrously complicated, controversial and contentious process never before tested on such a large scale and with no certain outcome. The DIA is unusual among major civic museums in that the city retains ownership of the building and collection while daily operations, including fund-raising, are overseen by a nonprofit institution.
As emergency manager, Orr has great latitude in selling city assets to satisfy debt. But the scope of that power to sell off city jewels, such as the DIA collection, Belle Isle or the city’s water department, for example, has yet to be exercised and likely would be tested in court.
Or the zoo, for that matter.  Continuing on with the report.
Under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, neither a judge nor creditors can force the city to liquidate its assets. But bankruptcy experts say the judge and creditors can push for a sale of assets and that the pressure could be hard to resist under some circumstances.

“The creditors can really force the issue,” Nowling said. “If you go into court, they can object and say, ‘Hey, I’m taking a huge haircut, and you’ve got a billion dollars worth of art sitting over there.’ ”

Nowling said that some creditors already have asked Orr whether the DIA collection is “on the table.” Nowling would not identify which creditors, but he said, “These are people savvy enough to know where all the money for the City of Detroit is.”
Of course, the mere idea of selling off the DIA's assets is provoking a strong reaction.
The DIA hired a bankruptcy lawyer to advise it, and philanthropist and DIA patron A. Alfred Taubman said this evening that “it would be a crime” to sell any of the DIA’s collection to satisfy city creditors.

“I’m sure Mr. Orr, once he thinks about it, will certainly not choose that as one of the assets,” Taubman said. “It’s not just an asset of Detroit. It’s an asset of the country.”
DIA Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson said the museum has hired New York bankruptcy attorney Richard Levin of Cravath, Swaine & Moore to advise ways to protect the collection from possible losses. Levin is one of the nation’s leading bankruptcy attorneys and was active in the General Motors bankruptcy and other high-profile cases.

“We are standing by our contention and belief that we hold the collection in trust for the public,” Erickson said this evening. “And although to some it may seem to be an asset, we do not.”
The possible forced sale of some of the DIA’s greatest treasures — including some of the world’s most famous paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, and scores of other masterpieces, is sending shock waves through the museum world.

“There would be hue and cry the likes of which you’ve never heard,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C. “The museum should be a rallying point for the rebirth of Detroit and not a source of funds.”
As one can see from the reports, this move has upset the rich and powerful.  It's also messing with their entertainment, which is guaranteed to make them act.  Orr might get his appraisal, but he will also a huge fight on his hand and all kinds of terrible PR.  In addition, as the last sentence quoted above notes counterproductive to the long term recovery of the city.  The people who will go to a Whole Foods in Midtown and Marche du Nain Rouge are there in large part because of cultural resources like the DIA.  The city needs those people, as well as all the suburbanites who read Hour Detroit, just as much as it needs the people in the neighborhoods.  The revival of Detroit needs everyone, including the people with the money and power to make it happen.  Pissing them off by threatening a cultural institution is not the way to get their support.

I plan on following this story.  Right now, I'll leave you with this statement from the DIA, which gives me comfort.
“The DIA strongly believes that the museum and the City hold the museum’s art collection in trust for the public. The DIA manages and cares for that collection according to exacting standards required by the public trust, our profession and the Operating Agreement with the City. According to those standards, the City cannot sell art to generate funds for any purpose other than to enhance the collection. We remain confident that the City and the emergency financial manager will continue to support the museum in its compliance with those standards, and together we will continue to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Detroit."

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