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Selling the DIA at Mackinac

"Postman" by Van Gogh

“Postman” by Van Gogh

Week ten of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The political and economic elite of Michigan are gathering on Mackinac Island for the annual Policy Conference sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. It is billed as an opportunity for “comprehensive dialogue on culture, education and the 21st century global market.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is the keynote speaker. Michelle Rhee, a primary figure in the test-students-to-death movement, will be interviewing with WDET’s Craig Fahle. Carlos Gutierrez, George W. Bush’s secretary of commerce and former CEO of Kellogg, joins the heavily Republican list of speakers.

Detroit Works announced it is attending to “meet with regional stakeholders to discuss how the strategic framework can be utilized to inform decision making, and improve the quality of life in Detroit and Southeast Michigan.”

Whatever the specific theme, the tone of the conference is clear. Taxes need to be cut. State and local government needs to be reduced. Unions are a problem and need to be destroyed. Global competition is key. Private capital should take over public responsibilities.

It is here that right-wing think tanks have rolled out their ideas for reshaping Michigan. The intellectual framework to defund cities, destroy public education and diminish civic life are fostered, providing the basis to establish emergency managers, right to work and Educational Achievement Authorities.

This year, a lot of people not invited to the island are making their presence known through direct actions and informational campaigns. The resistance to this gathering is welcome.

The people at this gathering, whose ideas are responsible for many of the financial woes of Detroit, will be surrounded by exquisite reproductions of Detroit Institute of Art paintings. Van Gogh’s the “Postman” and Monet’s “Gladioli” will be among the nine pieces displayed in outdoor public spaces as part of the Inside Out project of the DIA.

These are from the same DIA collection that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has talked glibly of selling as a way to pay the debts. The firestorm greeting the request by the emergency manager for an appraisal of the collection was perhaps unexpected.

The EM justified it, saying, “We’ve got a responsibility to rationalize all the assets of the city and find out what the worth is and what the city holds.” It seems the move was prompted by “big creditors” trying to protect their interests, should the city finally declare bankruptcy.

Whatever the motivation, the move has been greeted with a furor, likening the looting of the DIA by bankers to that of the Nazi’s raiding the great artworks of Paris during WWII for their private collections.

It also reveals the crassness of the efforts to make financial decisions without civic constraints. The DIA, founded in 1885, is an international treasure, home to over 65,000 pieces of art in 100 galleries. The American painting collection is one of the finest in the world, and the Rivera murals are without parallel.

Fortunately for all of us, the museum and art world are governed by long-standing covenants and traditions that preclude the sale of art to pay the bills. The likelihood of courts setting these aside to protect creditors is not high.

The DIA responded saying, it and the city “hold the museum’s art collection in trust for the public” and that “the city cannot sell art to generate funds for any purpose other than to enhance the collection.” They also have hired a team of lawyers to help protect the collection.

Meanwhile, we the people are finding ways to resist this assault on all of our public assets. New forms of resistance are emerging every day. If you cannot go to protest the goings on at Mackinac, attend the Peoples Platform and Convention June 1 at Marygrove.

They say, “Detroit is full of vibrant, resilient people who look out for each other and are committed to protecting the public assets and resources we share as a community” and we want  “a meaningful say in rebuilding our city.”

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