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Are The Arts in Jeopardy in Detroit?

May 10 2012 | 2 comments

Many of the arts and cultural institutions in Detroit are in serious financial trouble.   Corporate support is down and government funding is quickly drying up.  What does that mean for the community as a whole?  The impact could be stunning

The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of the most highly regarded art museums in the nation.  Established in 1885, it has a collection of more than 60-thousand works – including the famous Diego Rivera murals


” Not every community has a museum as rich and wonderful as the Detroit institute of arts,” According to DIA Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Annmarie Erickson.

For instance, the first Van Gogh ever purchased by an American museum hangs on the wall at the DIA.   And there are works by Monet, Picasso, Renoir and many talented American artists.  The collection is valued at more than $1 billion.

But the DIA is fighting for its financial life.

Corporate funding is dwindling and there is no more money at all from the state or city.

Erickson says, “We’re certainly not alone in our struggle.  What we have done here is what so many families and businesses have done, we’ve pared our budget back as far as we can.”

The Detroit Institute of Arts is asking all of us for help.  They are hoping to put a millage question on the August ballot in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.  If it passes, owners of a 150-thousand dollar home would pay another 15 dollars a year in taxes.

Erickson says if the measure fails, “I can’t say that we would absolutely close the museum, but what I can say is that we would probably reduce hours severely, perhaps one to 2 days a week.  We’d have to cut staff, we’d have to rethink things like special exhibitions.”

The way our cultural facilities have been financed in the past has led to some of the current problems.   Corporate donations have historically accounted for 20 percent of arts funding in metro Detroit.  Nationally, the average is only 5 percent.  So when corporate money dried up, Detroit institutions were in bad shape.

“So something like the Detroit Science Center would be very much affected by the economic downturn,” according to Maud Lyon, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan.

The Detroit Science Center closed it’s doors last fall.  Efforts are underway to find the money to re-open the facility.  The people working on that project aren’t talking about their plan or their chances for success.

Lyon points out, “People have been very creative in finding ways to keep going and not lose these important assets in the community.”

But the longer the Science Center is closed, the tougher it may be to re-open it. “It is always easier to keep an organization going than to start one up, you have an existing base of operations, you have facilities, you have a group of people that are supportive of that,” according to Lyon

Meanwhile, right in back of the Science Center is the Charles Wright Museum of African American History. “There are a number of other African American museums, but this museum is the largest of its kind,” According to Juanita Moore, museum President and CEO.

The museum has faced it’s own money problems over the years – and the closed building next door is a distressing reminder of what can happen.

Moore says,  “I think it does hurt the city overall not to have a science museum and of course its very sobering and makes us make sure we get out there and beat the bushes and continue to have an impact in the community.”

But the building and the collection are owned by the city – and the new financial review team could make big changes.

“We don’t know if its going to have an impact on the funding or not and we just honestly don’t know.” Moore told us.


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  1. Mark White May 30, 2012

    Detroit owns the DIA’s 60,000+ artworks. With many paintings worth millions, tens of millions and even up to a hundred million each for perhaps a few, the financial value of Detroit’s art collection sums to many, many billions of dollars. Art finance innovations could let Detroit revive that sterilized financial value without compromising the artworks’ cultural value to the City. While still hanging on the walls, those artworks could fund a massive arts endowment with earnings that underwrite not only DIA operations, which enhance the artworks’ cultural value and hence their financial value, but other essential city services as well. The DIA millage isn’t transformative, but a Detroit Arts Endowment would be. With artworks funding the arts, Detroit could multiply its arts support and the arts’ attraction to residents old and new.


  2. Susan Williams August 3, 2012

    I was forwarded an article written I the Farmington Hills Patch clearly a right wing paper. The article was titled 15 reasons not to vote for the mileage to save the DIA. I am looking to research these reasons and I cannot find information to substantiate their claims. Can you help me find where this information would be politically unbiased?


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