In Detroit, a $330 million deal could save the art and the pensions

BY Victoria Fleischer  January 15, 2014 at 10:18 AM EST
Photo by Detroit Public Television

One of the most famous attractions at the Detroit Institute of Arts is a mural by Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

While debate raged about the prospect of liquidating the collection at the Detroit Institute of Art, U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen, the federal mediator in the Detroit bankruptcy, came up with an innovative, alternative solution.

Rosen called the head of Community Foundations for Southeastern Michigan to see if foundations might be interested in buying the museum from the city, thereby providing millions of dollars. That money would then be used to save pensions, which are currently on the bankruptcy chopping block.

Calls were made to foundations, and on Monday Rosen announced the pledge of $330 million by nine organizations, including both influential, national foundations and smaller, local groups.

Photo by Detroit Public Television

In 2003, the DIA was the second largest municipality-owned museum in the U.S.

According to the Detroit Free Press, that level of support, specifically through a coalition of foundations, is unprecedented.

But does this deal have legs? The total pledged is $170 million less than Rosen’s original goal of $500 million. Will that smaller sum be enough for unions aiming to protect pensions?

The museum has asked the state for money to protect the art, offering in return an expansion of statewide exhibitions and educational programs. As of now, it is unknown whether the state will add money to the pot.

The Detroit Free Press also reported that other creditors are likely to be unsatisfied and will continue to push for liquidating the DIA assets.

Christie’s auction house appraised part of the collection at $454 million to $867 million in a report commissioned by the city and released in December. That audit only took into account the 2,773 works of art purchased with city funds, not the 66,000 works that are in the collection and owned by the city. Other creditors believe it’s worth billions of dollars.

If the deal does go through, the museum and its collection will be safe.

“The city would have no claim on any of the art. So it would permanently shield the museum from the vagaries of municipal finances,” Mark Stryker, the arts reporter for the Detroit Free Press told Art Beat.