Metro DetroitAugust 9, 2012
Free admission announced after DIA millage passes
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
Following Aug. 7 voter approval of a 0.2-mill levy for the next 10 years, the Detroit Institute of Arts announced that it was providing free admission for Wayne, Macomb and Oakland County residents immediately.
Although voters won’t see the tax increase until their winter tax bills, likely at the end of this year, DIA representatives announced their decision to institute free admission right away.
“We are thrilled that voters in three counties have assured a bright future for the DIA by approving this millage, and we deeply appreciate their support,” said DIA Director Graham Beal in a press release.
According to unofficial tallies available at press time, the county votes were as follows: 63,270 — or 50.5 percent — in favor and 61,930 — or 49.5 percent — against in Macomb; 102,012 — or 63.68 percent — in favor and 52,916 — or 36.32 percent — opposed in Oakland; and 163,543 — or 68.15 percent — in favor and 76,444 — or 31.85 percent — opposed in Wayne.
The millage is expected to generate about $23 million annually for the museum, which operates on a $25.4 million budget — reduced in 2009 from $34 million.
Andrew Camden of Grosse Pointe City, a longtime DIA Board trustee, said the millage would give the museum financial stability and a chance to increase its endowment.
Jennifer Callans of Mount Clemens, executive director of the Anton Art Center and secretary of the Macomb Arts Authority, said the DIA is a “source of shared pride” in the region, and she was pleased the millage got regional voter support.
Jubilant cheers and applause greeted early positive election results at a post-election event Aug. 7 at the DIA, as museum officials and millage supporters watched election coverage on a large-screen TV. A spokesperson said about 400 people from around the area were in attendance; more than 1,000 worked on the millage campaign, she said.
They included Harmony Westfall of Harrison Township, one of the organizers of the Macomb County campaign.
“This is a great cultural institution regionally, and I believe part of what gives value to our community are cultural institutions,” she said. “It’s something we need to protect. I want (the DIA) to be here for my children and my children’s children.”
Christine “CK” Kotila of Mount Clemens, another Macomb County campaign organizer, said she still has fond memories of her DIA visits as a child.
“Art is for everyone — it really is,” said Kotila, echoing the campaign’s catchphrase. “Kids today don’t really get exposed to culture as much as they should, and I feel passing of this millage will allow more kids to have this experience.”
DIA officials said that approval of the millage would enable them to increase programs for children and seniors, as well as offer free school field trips. Kotila said some school districts would even get free transportation to the DIA, and she added that the museum plans to restore some programs for teachers. Transportation for some senior visits is expected as well.
Stan Simek of St. Clair Shores, chair of the Macomb Arts Authority, said cultural institutions like the DIA “improve the quality of life and build a better community.”
Free admission was one of the millage’s key selling points. Longtime DIA volunteer Joyce Mason of Farmington Hills said she has a senior friend on a limited income who’ll now be able to bring her grandchildren to the museum.
“It’s a jewel,” Mason said of the DIA. “Having the millage and having admission free will bring more people in here.”
Les Day, a Grosse Pointe Shores voter, said he felt the millage request was fair because Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are the ones that use the museum the most. He and his wife, Geri, voiced staunch support for the millage.
“Oh, absolutely,” Geri Day said in response to whether she was in favor of the millage. “We can’t let anything happen to (the DIA).”
Young voter Konrad Tech of Grosse Pointe Farms was equally passionate about the millage, saying it was one of the issues that brought him to the polls.
Not everyone was in favor of the proposal. Royal Oak resident Michael McDonald, who was elected Aug. 7 as a Republican precinct delegate, was among those in opposition. Although it’s a relatively small millage — the owner of a home with a market value of $150,000 would only see a tax increase of $15 annually — he said it’s “another thing that gets added” to tax bills at a time when many people are still struggling financially.
“I like the DIA — I just don’t think they should be supported by tax dollars, that’s all,” McDonald said.
A Grosse Pointe Shores voter who asked not to be identified expressed similar sentiments at the polls.
“If they want to have (a museum), they have to be self-sustaining,” he said. “They can get money from the people who use (the DIA).”
DIA representatives, however, have said that while they’ve greatly increased their fundraising efforts, it hasn’t been enough to make up for the millions in tax dollars they’ve lost in recent years. Gene Gargaro of Grosse Pointe Shores, chair of the DIA Board of Directors, said the museum has made changes to reduce its costs, including cutting its budget by a third in recent years and laying off 65 staffers — nearly one-fifth of the total — in 2009. Although they’ve increased their fundraising efforts, he said that revenue source has declined dramatically in recent years, and suggestions that they increase admission from $8 for adults to $30-$40 — as some have said — would simply mean far fewer people would be able to visit the museum, which attracts about 450,000 annually now.
Although millage supporters have said the DIA is a draw for businesses considering locating in metro Detroit, McDonald believes the millage will have a negative impact.
“I don’t think it’s good for the tri-county area,” he said. “Once taxes are passed, they usually go up, and once taxes are passed, we never get rid of them.”
Had the millage not succeeded, DIA officials had said they would have had to slash offerings, close galleries, and eliminate community outreach and public programs, among other changes.
“I knew it was going to pass, because the DIA is really a historical presence in the community,” said Bettye Misuraca of Grosse Pointe Farms, chair of the Wayne County Art Authority. “The millage gave it more new light to shine for many years in the future.”
In conjunction with millage passage, the DIA is displaying Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Holding a Balance” in the Dutch galleries through Sept. 2. The painting — one of only 11 Vermeers on display in the United States — is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
At press time, DIA officials were still exploring what enhanced benefits they will now offer to museum members.
For hours and more information about the museum, visit www.dia.org.
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