When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder tasked Kevyn Orr to keep the city of Detroit out of bankruptcy, he knew some hard decisions would likely need to be made. After all, a city can’t just move some money around and escape between $15 and $17 billion in debt. That being said, I’m not sure he expected the newly appointed emergency manager to float the idea of potentially selling off the Detroit Institute of the Arts’ world-renowned collection.

Thanks to years of prosperity and a dedication to the arts from the city’s elite, the DIA has been able to build one of the most appreciated and beautiful art collections in the world. From Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait to Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance, the treasures are collectively worth billions of dollars, but exactly who they belong to is a hotly debated issue. According to USA Today, technically, the city owns the artwork, but the museum is actually run by a non-profit that has a binding agreement with Detroit lawmakers to run the place like a public trust in accordance with industry standards. Those standards demand no pieces of art ever be sold and/ or removed unless it’s for the reason of purchasing more art, they're found to be fake or they were donated under shady circumstances.

With so much debt hanging over its head, approximately $9 to $11 billion of which is owed to pensions and other non-revenue generating funds, something clearly needs to be done. At some point, it could potentially come down to fulfilling these obligations or cutting back the police presence in a city that already has its problems with crime. Other publically funded charges like education and firefighting could also be affected. That’s why it’s hard to blame Orr for floating the idea.

Right now, selling art is just one of many ideas that are being actively looked at. Here’s to hoping the city is able to find a way to keep is cultural treasures and keep its citizens safe.



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