Protests planned against sale of Detroit Institute of Arts assets

DETROIT - The organization Defend the DIA! is organizing a protest outside of the Detroit Institute of Arts today at 5:30 p.m. to oppose the possible selling of the museum's artwork.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is pitching a plan for the state to send hundreds of millions of dollars into Detroit's financial restructuring as part of an effort to prevent pieces from the museum's art collection from being sold in the city's bankruptcy case.

The proposal that would go to Gov. Rick Snyder might also involve a transfer of ownership of the museum building and art from Detroit to the state or the private nonprofit organization that currently runs the museum, the Detroit Free Press reported on Friday.

DIA Chief Operating Officer Annmarie Erickson said that under the draft proposal, which does not include specific figures, the state would provide an annual revenue stream that could reach roughly $20 million to $25 million a year over 20 or more years.

"Is this better than going through an art sale?" Erickson said. "Absolutely. It's better politically for the governor, Legislature and the emergency manager. It's better for the city of Detroit and the people throughout the state. No other city has ever sold off assets like this."

Under the DIA's plan, the museum would promise an expansion of statewide DIA programming such as traveling shows and educational initiatives. Erickson described the proposal as a framework for discussion and said specific dollar amounts or ownership arrangements would be on the table.

The DIA has shown its proposal to two Snyder advisers and one senior city official, Erickson said, but she declined to name them.

"This is not a bailout or a handout, but a serious business proposition," she said.

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said that "as far as the governor knows, this hasn't been proposed to him in a formal meeting. But Gov. Snyder is always open to ideas that would partner with the people of Detroit and help in the city's reinvention."

New York-based auction house Christie's is expected to finish appraising the most noteworthy city-owned works at the Detroit Institute of Arts by the end of the month, Kevyn Orr, Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager, told business and civic leaders on Thursday.

The state appointed Orr in March to fix Detroit's finances. Before filing for bankruptcy protection this summer, he told museum officials that creditors may seek to claim assets such as the artwork to satisfy some of the city's debt, which he has estimated is at least $18 billion.

Despite Christie's assurances that it would recommend ways for the city to make money off its artwork without losing ownership of it, many Detroit-area art lovers are worried that pieces could be sold off. Orr has said there was no plan on the table to sell any city assets.

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling he would reserve specific comment about the DIA's plan until he saw the proposal, but said it represented the kind of alternatives to selling art that Orr has been seeking. The city's bankruptcy petition was filed July 18 in federal court.

"The EM would welcome a discussion about that," Nowling said. "It doesn't mean he would endorse it. ... We'd have to look whether it makes sense for the city, does it have support from Lansing, and does it make sense for the DIA as well."

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