Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit, Resilience or Resignation?

Detroit, the one-time city giant, has filed for bankruptcy. As many of you know, the Detroit Institute of Art was reluctant, actually, aggressively adamant that they would not hold a fire sale to help Detroit out of its financial woes. They still hold this position.

Having just returned from a short stint in Detroit, I can honestly say that there are no words to describe the landscape of the city and of the people. Resilience or resignation? That's the question a friend of mine asked regarding the people of Detroit. I think it's both (or at least it's hard to tell). It's similar to being a Chicago Cubs fan on the one hand or being a sports writer and being assigned to cover the NY Mets. Resilience or resignation?

I loved my stay in Detroit, and I loved the people I met while I was there. I was given a "tour" of homes that were purchased for $100 and $500; both needing repairs but nonetheless, what does $500 get you in New York city, or any other city in the US? These homes were next to abandoned and empty lots; adjacent to armatures of homes charred to a crisp.

Detroit is decimated. As I drove around the city I could not help but feel that I was in the TV show, The Walking Dead. The city looked empty; abandoned. Streets need repair. I noticed one, yes, one police car the three days I was there (and that police car was in front of Comerica Park the night that the Detroit Tigers played the Texas Rangers).

A current question on the minds of artists, curators, and museums concerns the role that art and public museums play in relation to the public. Relating to the public generally means providing a wide array of culture and making it affordable and accessible. There comes a time, however, when an institution must reassess--on its own--its own duty to the city that it inhabits. It calls for us to reassess our notion of art and of culture. Where are our artists in this time of need?

1 comment:

Dr. Mark said...

Free Press reporter Mark Stryker highlights Kevyn Orr's court filing about Detroit's DIA collection*. In context with Orr's call for DIA Corp. to protect Detroit's artworks by "forming some covenants in ways that would monetize the value of the asset there but keep the art here in Detroit,"** Orr's filing may mean: (a) engaging all interested parties will include creditors in the dialogue regarding the City-owned art collection, not just DIA Corp.; (b) reconciling the competing positions means keeping DIA artworks on DIA walls (for the public trust) while they earn cash for Detroit (with artwork covenants); (c) which produces the very resolution that maximizes the long term benefits to the City -- the DIA stays as it is -- and the prospects for a successful restructuring -- the creditors happily take the 100 cents on the dollar that a Detroit Arts Endowment can fund***.


** (see 00:52 to 01:12)

*** Art market experts value just 38 top DIA artworks (out of 60,000+) at more than $2.5 billion, suggesting the DIA can make a huge difference to Detroit's restructuring: