Progress in Detroit


People look at a mural by artist Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Art. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Detroit Institute of Arts is now working with federal mediators to diffuse one of the most troubling crises in the art world in recent years. The bankrupt city’s creditors are trying to force the sale of art from the renowned collection, much of which is technically owned by the city. By working with federal mediators, the museum hopes to come up with a plan that will allow it to retain its art, but funnel some money to pension funds and other entities that hold the city’s debt. A statement on the museum’s website explains the tentative first steps in what will likely be a controversial process:

“The leadership of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) today applauded federal mediators Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and Eugene Driker for initiating a positive conversation around the need to protect the museum collection and provide relief and revitalization for the City of Detroit and its citizens. At a meeting with the mediators on Tuesday, the DIA expressed enthusiastic support for the work that has been done to date, and pledged to help refine and implement the plan in the weeks ahead. The plan engages national and local foundations among other funding sources to create a mechanism for providing cash for the City, while ensuring the present and future safety of the DIA collection. Details of the plan are still in process, as meetings with the foundation community and others continue. The DIA has begun to mobilize its considerable public support to help implement a fundraising strategy that will satisfy the City’s needs, while ensuring the well-being of the museum for the residents of Detroit, southeast Michigan and beyond.”

As the Free Press reports, getting creditors to agree to this process won’t be easy. And convincing foundations to put forth money for art already owned by the city is another hurdle:

The plan will have to be confirmed by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and is likely to be contested by creditors looking to sell DIA art as a way of recovering more of the money owed to them by the city.

A number of significant hurdles remain to a final deal.

The foundations, which include some of the country’s largest and most influential such as the New York-based Ford Foundation, still have to agree that supporting municipal pensions is consistent with their mission. It also remains unclear whether the unions representing pensioners will also drop their demands for more money and accept the pot created by the foundations.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.

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Philip Kennicott · December 13, 2013