Something seems out of perspective as we consider selling a very small portion of the artwork in the Detroit Institute of Arts to raise money to pay off some of Detroit’s bankruptcy victims.
The choice is simple: Cut someone’s promised pension benefits or sell city-owned artwork.
Why aren’t we instead asking why any city should have been in the art business to begin with?
Politicians can grandstand all they want to about what a shame it would be to transfer prized pieces of art from the public domain to someone’s private collection. But if that’s the sentiment, perhaps the museum can take up a collection from those people who want to keep these prized pieces in the DIA to buy the treasurers from the city.
And for the record, the art we are talking about — the city-owned pieces — constitute only 5 percent of DIA’s collection. To be exact, the city owns 2,781 of the museum’s entire collection of 66,000 works. The city owned portion could raise between $452 million and $866 million, according to Christie’s auction house.
If all of this means Oakland and Macomb counties withdraw their support from the museum as a result, so be it.
People need to understand the nature of a bankruptcy, since municipal bankruptcy is a new concept to all Michiganians. The people, in the form of the city government, made more commitments than they were able to honor. Therefore, grownups have come along to manage the City of Detroit and force it to sell off some of assets so it can pay off its hapless creditors.
Generally in a bankruptcy, the creditors get much less than they are owed, sometimes only pennies on the dollar. It is up to the bankruptcy judge to determine how much.
If you say the artwork should not be sold — and bear in mind DIA could buy it if the DIA or its patrons could afford it — you are basically saying that there should be $452 million to $866 million less given to creditors — like pensioners on fixed incomes — whose only crime was to place their faith in the city of Detroit and its taxpayers.
This is not rocket science folks. There is a downside when you don’t pay your bills.