Could Detroit’s Sale of Museum Art Become a National Tragedy?

Detroit Institute of ArtsIn a December 10th Wall Street Journal article “Delusions in Detroit” highlights the unique pressure brought on the Detroit Institute of Art to bail out Detroit by selling part of its very valuable art collection.

The Bankruptcy Court approved the city’s Chapter 9 filing and allowed the emergency manager to proceed with his restructuring plan, including selling art even though that plan exceeded the emergency manager’s goal of getting $500 million from the museum.

This is unprecedented and as the article points out violates two cardinal principles of museum ethics: the doctrine that museums hold art in trust for future generations and that therefore artworks may be sold only to purchase more art.

The article points out that no U.S. museum has ever been pressed to bail out its hometown and stresses that part of the plan is delusional. It gives specific examples and stresses that the museum’s art must be treated like all other city assets (for example Belle Isle which houses the aquarium and yacht club has been taken off the table), the delusion that the museum could easily part with some of its 66,000 artworks (the article points out that of the 2,871 pieces evaluated for sale, 75% of the value lies in 11 pieces of art) and other U.S. museums will buy the art to keep it in public view (the article points out that most museums do not have the capital to do this).

The article posits two possible solutions. One is that $500million be raised from foundations to buy the art and the second is that the State of Michigan buy the art and transfer the ownership from the City of Detroit to the State of Michigan.

So far neither of those options seem feasible and Judith Dobryznksi, the author of the article, notes that Midchiganders might remember that in the 1920s and 1930s the cash hungry Soviets sold off Russia’s art treasures dispersing them to other countries. Today that episode is viewed as a national tragedy. I know I will be watching this story very closely as it unfolds.

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Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

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