When the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy earlier this year nobody could say they were surprised. The once thriving hub of the American car industry and Motown has been suffering the effects in the downturn of the economy more than most thanks to a move away from local manufacturing, and the undercutting tactics from Asia and other offshore countries. Whilst this is nothing new for the struggling town – once dubbed Motor City – this new bankruptcy status brings with it a whole host of new problems that now has them considering selling off arguably the areas greatest asset…. its art.
Packed full of masterpieces and artefacts, the Detroit Institute of Arts is one of North America’s most significant museums with a collection to rival any of the top galleries in the world. From Van Gogh to Cezanne, Goya to Rembrandt, this will no doubt be a heartbreaking decision for a city that has lost everything; but do they really have a choice?
Many are crying out for the city to hold onto what is its last remaining cultural trump card, fearing it could mark the official end to a town that once boasted a population of 1.8million and gave birth to the Cadillac. However, with an art collection estimated at $3 billion and debts of around $18 billion, this may be one of the only solutions Detroit currently has in repaying some of what they currently owe. Whether it’s later seen as foolhardy or an unavoidable cost of their present dire situation, the city is between a rock and a hard place with no one seemingly stepping in to remedy the situation anytime soon.
Laying more recent claim to the likes of Eminem, The White Stripes and techno, it is clear Detroit still has much to offer. Their houses may be worth not much more than $1 (nine were listed at this price last year!) and their career prospects may have repeatedly been squashed but the remaining proud citizens still have a lot more fight in them yet.
When the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, drew up an inventory of the museums lauded art collection citing practical reasons, ‘We have to look at everything on the table and find out what it’s worth’, the towns residents did not take the news lying down. Calling the proposed sale ‘a crime’, local supporters have insisted the collection should remain in the city, although their distress appears to have gone unnoticed, with art specialists Christies confirming a team have already been in touch in order to ascertain a value on the goods, fuelling further speculation that an auction is definitely on the cards. Ironically, with Michigan tourism drawing in some $2 billion per year, this rumoured decision could be entirely counterproductive, and actually set the city back further.
Another solution being proposed is an equally unpopular pension plunge, which could see the same amount of revenue being taken from the city’s financial retirement obligations – an option which would undoubtedly cause another united uproar. And still, there may be one, slightly more pleasing way the city can recoup its costs and still retain its prized art. Should a philanthropic deal be struck, whereby the works are purchased by private collectors and museums who would then lend the paintings and treasures back to the town, Detroit may just be able to weather this storm a little longer, and get themselves back on their feet and on the road to greatness once again. With the last remaining hope of Detroit almost contained in these cultural items, let’s hope a happier resolution can be agreed upon very soon.