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EM says city’s art could be liquidated

By C. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), including work by artists such as Vincent Willem van Gogh, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso, could be sold to help pay Detroit city’s debt.

Kevyn Orr

Kevyn Orr

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr says the DIA’s collection could be sold in bankruptcy, according to a May 23 report in the Detroit Free Press. Some in metro Detroit have already objected to the possible sale and believe the art museum is a cultural jewel — an important institution to the region.

The DIA has a collection of some 60,000 works of art, according to the institution’s Web site. Some African American works include those by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Gordon Parks.

It is unclear what could become of Diego Rivera’s murals in Rivera Court, which are a tribute to Detroit’s manufacturing and labor roots.

Some Detroiters are saying this is exactly what citizens have protested when they oppose emergency management. Now, many in the suburbs can begin to understand.

“The myth is that the problems of Detroit can be contained and that they can be isolated within poor communities and not have a greater effect within the region and the state of Michigan,” says cultural organizer William Copeland. “The whole notion the EM is here to improve Detroit seems, to me, unfounded.”

Copeland says he believes “even if the debt is reconciled, there is nothing that shows Detroit is going to be in a better place as a result of the EM.”

Detroit Public School board member Elena Herrada, who is opposed to the EM-created Educational Achievement Authority, says, “The prospect of selling off art is an outrage but so is stealing public education.

“Welcome to our world. Imagine selling off schools to satisfy profits. The taxpayers of Detroit are stuck with a bond we levied upon ourselves to build new schools, only to have them taken from us [by the EAA] — with students and equipment in them — and we still pay the bond.”

DIA officials say the art is in a public trust and cannot be sold, but a recent media report indicates the DIA was warned about the potential.

“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,” say DIA officials in a press statement.

Highland Park historian Paul Lee says he is “naturally alarmed by the possibility of any portion of the DIA’s rich collections being sold off to creditors.”

Lee also notes he is “even more outraged by the nullification of the power of the vote in Detroit and the theft of local self-determination in it and other mostly ‘Black’ Michigan cities.”

Lee says the state and region are only beginning to know what Detroiters and those in other Black communities have endured living under emergency management.

Lee says efforts to sell the DIA’s collection “hurt” because it represents “selling off the symbols of their identity, which, of course, is the essence of art.”

Copeland says any effort to sell the art is a further assault on education in Detroit.

“Many people of my generation skipped school to hang out at the DIA or libraries. You can get in these spaces and explore yourself. That is profound, self-initiated learning, but you are closing the libraries, museums,” he says. “This is an unmitigated assault on education in Detroit and Black communities throughout the nation.”


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