Detroit museum plan would aim to prevent art sale

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit Institute of Arts lobbyists plan to keep seeking a buy-in from Gov. Rick Snyder on a proposal to stave off any effort to sell artwork from the museum’s massive collection to satisfy part of the city’s debt, an institute official said Friday.

The plan, which only exists in draft form for now, has been floated by officials at the state level. But Annmarie Erickson, chief operating officer for the arts institute, said officials approached about the plan have already told the museum’s lobbyists that it’s a “political non-starter.”

“We don’t believe that,” Erickson told The Associated Press. She declined to name the officials.

Considered one of the top art museums in the country, the institute has about 60,000 pieces. At least 3,300 of those are owned by the city of Detroit.

State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr alerted institute officials this spring that city-owned pieces could be considered assets by creditors if Detroit was allowed into bankruptcy. On July 18, Orr filed for Chapter 9 protection, making Detroit the largest U.S. city to do so.

Orr has estimated the city’s debt is at least $18 billion.

Museum officials began developing their proposal in late summer.

“The emergency manager has been saying ‘come up with some solutions,’” Erickson said. “He’s even been saying the DIA hasn’t been doing anything. The truth of the matter is we have been doing some things.”

Under the plan, the state would fund Detroit an unspecified amount of money each year over an unspecified number of years.

“We would ask the state to develop a funding mechanism to the city,” Erickson said. “An example could be $20 million over 20 years.

“The state would fund the amount of money the emergency manager hopes to realize from the DIA,” she added. “First we were told it was north of $500 million. More recently we’ve been told $400 million to $500 million.”

Erickson said she’s never met Orr and that those conversations were with members of his restructuring team.

However, Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said Friday that Orr has not given the arts institute an amount.

To sweeten the deal, the institute’s plan also calls for the museum to raise money on its own to expand service and provide traveling art exhibits, artwork conservation and educational programs to communities outside the Detroit area.

“People across Michigan would benefit from this,” Erickson said. “We would be much more active, and we think it would help (the plan) to be more politically appealing.”

Snyder does not remember receiving any formal presentation on the art institute’s proposal, said Dave Murray, a spokesman for the governor.

Any ideas that meet the goals of improving services and reducing costs for city residents “will be given a close review,” Murray said.

Erickson said the museum is “trying very hard to work constructively with the emergency manager and the governor’s office.”

“I’m hoping that now that we have decided to go more public that this stops the impression that we aren’t doing anything,” she said. “We don’t believe this can be solved on our side only. It requires a conversation between all the interested parties.”

Nowling said he cannot comment on how politically viable the museum’s proposal may be. He also said Orr has not been briefed on the plan.

“Generally, I can say the EM is interested and willing to hear any proposal or idea from DIA management that helps the city solve its financial crisis and leads to a strong, viable Detroit,” Nowling said. “The EM’s office is working on finding a time for a meeting with the DIA in the coming few weeks about ideas it wants to discuss.”

Meanwhile, appraisers from New York-based Christie’s international auction house are expected to have a general assessment of the art institute’s most noteworthy Detroit-owned pieces by the end of October. A similar assessment of the remaining items is expected by the end of November.

Orr has said experts also would be hired to place values on parking garages, parking meters, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, a small city-owned airport and some real estate holdings.

“The city must know the current value of all its assets, including the city-owned collection at the DIA,” Orr said in an August release. “There has never been, nor is there now, any plan to sell art. This valuation, as well as the valuation of other city assets, is an integral part of the restructuring process. It is a step the city must take to reach resolutions with its creditors and secure a viable, strong future for Detroit and its residents.”

A federal judge has to determine if Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy. Hearings on some creditors’ objections to the city’s bankruptcy filing are scheduled later this month.

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