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Detroit looks to sell DIA art collection to pay off debt

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Detroit looks to sell DIA art collection to pay off debt

Detroit is mired in fresh controversy as officials mull over the liquidation of the city’s historic art collection. In a desperate attempt to pay off city debts, bankruptcy managers have invited Christie’s auction house to value the city’s 60,000 piece art collection. Detroit suburbs have already mobilized against such action, and have threatened to cut their financial contribution to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties are threatening to withhold a combined $23 million annually from the DIA, which represents 75 percent of the art institute’s operating budget. Officials from Oakland County will meet on Tuesday to vote on a resolution to halt distribution of a property tax levy if any art is sold. Macomb and Wayne Counties have similar plans.

Earlier in the summer the city of Detroit became the largest US city in history to file for bankruptcy, joining the California cities of Stockton and San Bernardino as the only municipalities to file for Chapter 9 protection. Detroit’s debt is estimated to be around $20 billion.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr have said repeatedly they don’t want to sell the DIA’s artwork, which according to the museum is protected by a charitable trust. Orr disagrees with the museum’s assessment of its assets, and has opted to keep the sale of art on the table.

The museum’s artwork isn’t the only thing bankruptcy managers are looking to sell. Assets such as the water and sewage department are also being shopped, as Detroit look for ways to raise enough cash to pay off its debt. The DIA has said it would likely shut down if Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties cut their levies.

The prospect of selling off the DIA’s most valued assets has angered many of the museum’s supporters, most of which are native Detroiters. DIA spokeswoman Pamela Marcil has threatened the city with legal action should it sell even a single piece of art.

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