Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Save Detroit, What Goes First, Pensions or Art?

I just read this article on The Telegraph concerning Detroit's bankruptcy issue and politics. One thing it makes clear is that capital "P" politics is now in play. Should Detroit get a federal bailout? It was a matter of time before the dreaded "B" word was lobbed around.

Before I opine, my immediate reaction would be "hell no." The last thing we need in this country is to incentivize irresponsible spending by municipalities all while guaranteeing that although local residents of a bankrupt city may not have streetlights, ambulances, and police cars they'll have pensions and access to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings.

One aspect I have been thinking about regarding Detroit's bankruptcy (regardless of how we spin it, let's call it what it is, it's a bankruptcy), is that it does call for us to reconfigure and redefine our notion of culture and, in relation to it, our definition of "value." What kind of culture do we value in this day and age? Does a contemporary city really need a museum and art collection that pretty much reiterates and replicates what other major museums in the U.S. already do? Does Detroit's mess not call for us to rethink what a city actually needs after the 2008 economic apocalypse? Are there not other forms of culture that a city like Detroit could use and, more importantly, may already have? If so, could these forms of culture not be funded--or partially funded--with a sale of the DIA collection?

Tied to this question is the thought of subsidies funding. I'm wondering how much of the revenue earned by local Detroit sports teams--the Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons--actually goes to the city of Detroit (and I'm not talking simply about employment of locals). If anyone knows, please feel free to opine or e-mail me.

More on this as I parcel out my thoughts.

In case you haven't read it yet, here's NY Times journalist Randy Kennedy's thoughts on Detroit.

1 comment:

Dr. Mark said...

Detroit's investment in artworks is on more-or-less the same scale as Dr. Barnes's investment in education: the artworks Barnes left his Barnes Foundation school are worth on the order of $25 billion. Capital value on that scale could not only fund Detroit's unfunded liabilities, but fund security and insurance for Detroit's DIA artworks and fund arts programs throughout the city. You may wonder why Detroit's $25 billion would fund security and insurance for DIA artworks if that money is earning cash for unfunded liabilities and arts programs. Wouldn't Detroit's DIA artworks be gone if Detroit had the use of $25 billion?

If Kevyn Orr uses bankruptcy to clear away the DIA Operating Agreement that has let DIA Corp. so far block his call for selling artwork covenants instead of artworks, DIA artworks hanging on DIA walls could earn cash for Detroit's recovery. With a Detroit Arts Commission run by Detroit artists instead of suburban billionaire art collectors, arts teachers, prizes, commissions, scholarships, etc. would get the kind of funding that now goes to DIA Inc. curators who sell what the Detroit's DIA collection already has to buy what their hearts desire. If you want a vibrant Detroit, let Detroit artists guide the spending of available funds from the Detroit Arts Endowment.