Sunday, August 11, 2013

Should Detroit Deaccession? Let's Load the Dice

The NY Times Sunday Dialogue takes a few reader "calls" on the issues of Detroit's bankruptcy and the potential deaccessioning of part of the Detroit Institute of Art's collection.

The census given in the Times' print version is, unsurprisingly, that the DIA should not sell of its art works to pay for Detroit's financial woes. What's unfortunate, and lackluster, about the Times' print survey is that it includes five responses, only one of which is from Michigan and four of the five are against any kind of sale.

The online survey includes two other responses, one of which makes a similar argument I have made before that art "education" is more than access to high-priced "masterpieces." Angela Sorby, from Milwaukee, writes,
Arts education does not depend on expensive paintings; it depends on (relatively cheap) books, supplies and teachers. I think Detroit should sell its collection and pay off its debt. But the city should also set money aside to cultivate the city’s children — its future Caravaggios — whose deep reserves of talent might otherwise disappear, unheard and unseen.
Philosophy professor, Felicia Ackerman, adds some sobering thoughts,
Those who consider art essential to civilization should realize that it is even more essential for a civilized society not to abandon its most vulnerable members, let alone break its promise of pensions to those who have invested their working lives in public service.
Frank Robinson, who penned the original letter to the editor, responds to Ackerman,
Nevertheless, as Ms. Ackerman eloquently points out, the practical, political and moral question remains for Detroit and, to a lesser degree, for other museums: the pensions of civil servants, as well as basic municipal services, will be cut without some infusion of cash, and the institute’s paintings are significant assets. 
Robinson's response contains the key word for me in this dilemma: practical. I know it's politically incorrect to believe that there are practical solutions to many dire situations, primarily financial, because somehow, and from somewhere, money will magically appear and absolve any person or entity from financial ruin.

I would like to ask the editors of the Times if there were any responses submitted by Detroiters, and if so, why weren't they included? Are we really to believe that roughly 80% of the population is against any kind of deaccessioning or, shall we say, agrees with New York's "cultural elite"?


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