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DIA asks for support

By Zenobia Jeffries and Catherine Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts may close if a multi-county Art Authority millage does not pass in August. The proposal will appear on the primary ballot in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

“A lot of people are talking about regionalism. This is a good and small first step to regional development,” Annmarie Erickson, vice president and chief operating officer of the Detroit Institute of Arts told the Michigan Citizen.

According to Erickson, most DIA visitors are from the city of Detroit and Oakland County. She attributes Macomb’s lower numbers to its smaller population.

Last year, more than 2,100 Macomb County residents visited the museum during the Rembrant and the Face of Jesus exhibition. In 2012, 3,400 students from Oakland County Schools received free admission and transportation to the museum.

The millage would cost about $15 a year for every $150,000 of home market value and would raise about $10 million from Oakland, $8 million from Wayne and $5 million from Macomb.

“We hope people continue to value what museums bring to the table — from art to culture,” Erickson said.

Through the years, the DIA has struggled to maintain consistent, sustainable funding. In the 1970s the state of Michigan funded the museum but Republican Gov. John Engler cut that cost during the 1990s. Although owned by Detroit, the city struggled to fund the museum and, at that time, the museum moved to a nonprofit model managed by a board of directors.

Erickson says the millage would allow the museum to become self-sustaining. The millage would last for 10 years and contribute to operating costs. At the end of the 10 years the museum hopes to move to an endowment model.

Some have criticized the millage, as it does not include funding for other museums including the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and Detroit Historical Museum. Erickson said the organization was afraid the message would be diluted and that the effort would also have to ask voters for more money — a difficult sell outside of Detroit.

If the millage does not pass, the DIA will have to compress operations and eventually close because, according to Erickson, raising the cost of admission would price the museum, the lowest in the country, outside of visitor’s reach.

If the millage passes, the region will enjoy free admission, extended days and hours of operation, expanded school trips and community outreach programs to seniors such as the program with Mariners Inn to help veterans cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“We realize some say any tax is too much, but the benefits outweigh the cost,” Erickson said.

She explained that one visit by a family of four per year is far more expensive than the 10-year tax.

Despite Detroit’s financial troubles, Erickson says the city has always been helpful and the DIA was “thankful” for a $3.4 million capital improvement grant from Detroit taxpayers, which allowed the DIA to fix the steps near the Detroit Film Theatre.

Erickson is optimistic about the millage and says suburban communities and their leadership is receptive. She said one suburban mayor told her: “We all rise and fall together. We can’t let Detroit (or its institutions) go bankrupt.”

For more information or to volunteer for the effort, visit www.artisforeveryone.org. The Detroit campaign office is located at Jefferson and Chene.

Fast Facts: The DIA in Wayne County

- The DIA spent $4,394,873 with Wayne County Vendors

- 4,100 Wayne County students received free admission and transportation

- 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the annual Detroit Public Schools Student Art Exhibition

- 72 percent of staff lives in Wayne County

- Annual attendance is 400,000

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