Museums USA

A victory for Detroit Institute of Arts

But the battle with creditors over the museum's art collection carries on

The Michigan State Legislature agreed to contribute $350m to the "Grand Bargain" plan to secure the DIA's collection

The collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is inching closer to safety. The Michigan State Legislature agreed yesterday to contribute $350m over the next 20 years to protect the museum’s works of art and shore up Detroit’s ailing pension funds. The state’s governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill, which is part of a package to help settle the city’s bankruptcy, by the end of the week.

“It’s very significant and we’re delighted that the senate decided to move the package forward,” says Annmarie Erickson, the museum’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “This is the best outcome for the DIA and the pensioners and the city of Detroit in terms of moving the bankruptcy along.”

Twenty-one bipartisan state senators approved the bill to secure the funds; 17 voted against. The government’s $350m contribution brings the total amount pledged to the so-called “grand bargain” to $820m. Local and national foundations have promised $370m to support pensions and protect Detroit’s art, while the DIA itself has agreed to raise $100m. As part of the agreement, the DIA would receive clear and irrevocable title to its entire collection, building and all related city-owned assets.

In another victory for the DIA, the state legislature rejected a bill yesterday that would have prevented the museum from seeking renewal of an innovative property tax that supports its operations. The millage, which was approved by voters in 2012, is expected to contribute over $23m to the museum over ten years. “We felt strongly that if the DIA decides to go back for a millage at the end of this one, it should be up to the voters to decide, not the state legislature,” Erickson says.

Several hurdles remain before the DIA’s collection is safe. By 11 July, the city’s pensioners are expected to vote on whether or not to accept the grand bargain. Later in the month, the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case will begin a hearing on whether the solution is fair and viable.

In a ruling last month, the same judge granted creditors the right to reappraise the museum’s 60,000-work collection, which they believe has been undervalued by the city. The DIA has since provided creditors with additional documents related to the collection, according to Erickson. “The judge also ruled that they have the right to look at things in storage, but we have not heard anything from them regarding works in storage at this point,” she says. No auction house is believed to be affiliated with the reappraisal.

“We are being as co-operative as we can be, within reasonable bounds, but we are really not trying to expend too much time or effort on something we hope will never happen,” Erickson says.

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