Detroit art museum warns auction could be death knell

Thu Aug 1, 2013 11:48am EDT
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By Nick Brown and Joseph Lichterman

(Reuters) - A top officer at the Detroit Institute of Arts predicts near-certain closure for the museum if Detroit sells major pieces from the 60,000 works in the institute's art collection as a way to address the city's dire financial situation.

In an interview Wednesday, Annmarie Erickson, the DIA's chief operating officer, told Reuters the museum could lose significant funding if pieces from the collection are sold.

"It would certainly mean the closure of the museum, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually," Erickson said. "Our situation is in some respects just as dire as that of the creditors."

But with Detroit facing more than $18 billion in debt and retired city workers confronting cuts to pension and health benefits, the museum could have a tough time making a case for preserving its assets, bankruptcy experts say. Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed financial manager, has not ruled out the sale of DIA treasures to address the city's financial plight.

The rocky outlook for cultural assets like the DIA illustrates the tough choices facing a city once considered the cradle of American vehicle manufacturing. Like General Motors and Chrysler - Detroit titans that survived collapse by having painful decisions thrust upon them via bankruptcy - the city may have to part with cultural gems to bounce back from disaster.

Mark Young, president of the Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, which represents about 500 mid-level managers in Detroit's police department, said art should not outweigh workers, whose pensions and benefits are likely to face big cuts as Detroit restructures.

"The Van Gogh must go," said Young. "We don't need Monet - we need money."

The Detroit Institute of Art is not the only major cultural institution that could be caught up in Detroit's bankruptcy proceedings. Belle Isle, a 982-acre recreational spot in the Detroit River, as well as the Detroit Zoo could both be sold.   Continued...

A visitor uses his cell phone to take a picture of the 'Self Portrait' painting by painter Vincent van Gogh at the Detroit Institute of Arts museum in Detroit, Michigan in this file photo taken July 21, 2013. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook/Files