In yet another potentially cultural tragedy the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) which is owned by the city of Detroit may be forced to sell off some of it's collections.
We all know Detroit is broke and this could be a way to get the city back into the black. The DIA has brought in folks from Christie's to evaluate the situation. If the museum sells just 40 of it's most prized possessions it could bring $2.5 billion to a city $18 million in debt.
There is an international museum rule that forbids the asset of a publicly owned museum from being used to pay for other public expenses. In fact museums are only allowed to sell works of art if they are going to use the funds to improve their collections. I am not sure how this can be enforced or what the repercussions will be for the City of Detroit or the DIA if the sale moves forward.
From a financial point of view it seems like a no brainer and a fairly easy quick fix to the problems that have beset the once great city of Detroit. I would think most of the art in the museum was donated or gifted by a citizen or foundation. Can a museum sell a gift? Should a museum sell a gift? These are but two of the ethical questions involved in such a transaction.
If the Detroit is allowed to or does sell off enough of the collection to pay the debt it will solve the most urgent problem but it will do nothing to fix the fundamental issues that are at the core of Detroit's downfall. The debt is paid; now how does that fix what Detroit need to do to move forward? Will the schools get better? Will the middle class move back into the city? Will the roads get fixed? Will the street lights start working again? I doubt it. So then where does that leave the city?
The bigger question is what does it say about the nation and our current culture when New York can't sustain an opera company as interesting and exciting as City Opera and the people managing the bankruptcy of Detroit are so cavalier about the true value of art?
What has happened to this country that once used art and culture to help pull itself out of the great depression?
What has happened to this country that used to think big?
What has happened to this country that used to dream?
Why did we allow conservatives to make this country smaller and more narrow?
Why did we let the conservatives diminish our capacity for greatness?
A great nation needs art, music, dance and theater. A great nation needs culture.