It seems that the emergency financial manager for Detroit, Kevyn Orr, is contemplating compelling the Detroit Institute of Arts to sell some of its masterpieces to help pay down the city's massive debt.
USA Today reports:
"It is an existential drama of a kind that no city has ever faced, a combination of a high-stakes poker game and morality play in front of a worldwide audience. On the one hand, it has the potential to turn into a messy legal thicket with the courts ultimately deciding whether emergency manager Kevyn Orr can compel the museum to sell off some of its treasures to help pay the city's debts. On the other hand, many who oppose the suggestion to sell art see this as an emotional battle for the soul of the city.
Should Orr decide to move ahead on a sale of DIA artwork, these two fronts — the cultural and emotional on one hand and the legal side on the other — are likely to produce a clash that could take months or years to resolve. The toll could be monumental, permanently diminishing a museum widely recognized as one of the country's best.
With the city of Detroit facing possible bankruptcy, Orr and his representatives have put the DIA on notice that its multibillion-dollar art collection is a city asset and could be sold as part of a broad-based resolution of the city's massive debt, estimated at $15 billion to $17 billion. The DIA has hired a bankruptcy lawyer to advise it.
Nothing about the case is typical. The DIA is unusual among major civic museums in that the city retains ownership of the building and collection while daily operations and fund-raising are overseen by a nonprofit institution. The forced sale of art from a major American museum would be without precedent — and likely extraordinarily complicated and controversial.
Orr has not yet decided whether to sell art, though a final decision is expected within weeks. The possibility that the DIA might be forced to liquidate treasures by van Gogh, Matisse, Bruegel or other masterpieces under its care has sent shock waves of disbelief among the museum's supporters and the wider art world."It is a difficult time for the city, its residents and institutions. It is unlikely that Orr's decision, whatever it ultimately is, will satisfy anyone.
Source: USA Today, 26 May 2013