DIA's art collection at risk amid Detroit's financial woes - New York News

DIA's art collection at risk amid Detroit's financial woes

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Could this piece of art being sold to help settle Detroit's debt crisis? Could this piece of art being sold to help settle Detroit's debt crisis?
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DETROIT (WJBK) -

Officials say the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection could be sold to help satisfy creditors if the financially troubled city of Detroit seeks bankruptcy protection.

Bill Nowling, a spokesman for state-appointed emergency manager says Kevyn Orr, says Orr is considering whether the collection should be considered city assets that could be sold to cover Detroit's long-term debt. The debt is estimated at more than $14 billion.

Click the video player to hear what Detroit citizens have to say about the idea.

"As Kevyn Orr has said many times, he is considering many different options to help rectify Detroit's fiscal crisis," said Nowling. "What I can say is that there is no formal plan on the table to sell any Detroit asset, the DIA or otherwise.

The museum says it's hired a bankruptcy attorney to suggest ways to protect the collection from possible losses. In a statement, the DIA says it "and the city hold the museum's art collection in trust for the public" and that "the city cannot sell art to generate funds for any purpose other than to enhance the collection."

So how much is the museum's collection worth? According to a report from Crain's Detroit Business, a city report from 2004, when the DIA was still a city department, valued the collection at more than $1 billion.

The city owns the Detroit Institute of Arts' building and collection, while daily operations are overseen by a nonprofit. The scope of Orr's power as an emergency manager to sell the collection or any other major assets, such as the city's water department, likely would be tested in court.

"I am not shocked by anything that occurs in this city lately," said Annmarie Erickson, Executive Vice President at the DIA. "I think all of us are a little battle worn over what has been happening in the city of Detroit."

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in March appointed Orr as emergency manager, giving Orr the final say on Detroit's fiscal matters. The city's budget deficit could reach $380 million by July 1, it could run out of cash before the end of the year, and bankruptcy hasn't been ruled out.

Under a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, neither a judge nor creditors can force the city to liquidate its assets, but bankruptcy experts tell the Free Press that a judge and creditors could push for a sale. Some creditors have already asked Orr whether the DIA collection is "on the table," Nowling said.

Billionaire developer A. Alfred Taubman, a patron of the museum, said that "it would be a crime" to sell any of the DIA's collection to satisfy city creditors.

"I'm sure Mr. Orr, once he thinks about it, will certainly not choose that as one of the assets," Taubman said. "It's not just an asset of Detroit. It's an asset of the country."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report

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