A New York-based auction house recently determined that 2,800 pieces of city-owned art at the Detroit Institute of Arts has a fair-market value between $452 million and $866 million.
Locals are waiting to see if the city will put the collection up for sale as part of a plan to relieve its debt, but Christie’s Auction House has also offered suggestions on how the city might make money while maintaining ownership of some of its most valuable pieces, including Edgar Degas’ “Dancers in the Green Room,” Camille Pissarro’s “The Path,” and Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Graziella.”
The city could use the art as collateral to secure loans or lines of credit. Christie’s also suggested creating a partnership with another museum to lease the art on a long-term basis or establish a trust from which U.S. museums rent the city-owned art.
Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr has until January to present a plan for fiscal restructuring to courts. He warned museum officials that parting with its art collection may be part of that plan.
Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July with a debt of at least $18 billion, rising pension and healthcare costs, and a revenue stream too small to pay the city’s bills. The city’s pension funds are short by $3.5 billion. A federal judge allowed the city to enter bankruptcy earlier this month, making Detroit the largest U.S. city ever to do so.
“Everything is on the table,” Orr said last week. “Cash is king. Until I have cash in hand or a firm proposal, or a definitive agreement everything is on the table.’
Philanthropist A. Paul Schaap said the sale of art would be demoralizing to the community. He added that he, “doesn’t want to see pensioners hurt,” which is why he and his wife pledged $5 million to help offset their expected losses.
Similarly, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is acting as chief mediator between Detroit and its creditors, is negotiating with 10 art foundations to convince them to collectively purchase the art institute from the city for $500 million.
Still, some say the city should sell the art and focus on restoring its economic foundations. Nick Gillespie at the Daily Beast pointed out that taxpayers have been subsidizing the museum for years now despite decreasing attendance and economic turbulence.
The city, he wrote, ought to be emphasizing economic vitality, not cultural amenities. “Let’s get real,” he wrote. “What sort of message would it send to current and future residents—not to mention current and future bondholders—if Detroit refuses to put everything on the table?”