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DIA millage supporters gather in Macomb County

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published February 21, 2020

 This poster was passed around for attendees to sign, expressing their support for a millage renewal for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

This poster was passed around for attendees to sign, expressing their support for a millage renewal for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

 Supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts gathered in Warren Feb. 10 for a “Yes for the DIA” campaign kickoff. In March, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties will decide on whether or not to renew a DIA millage.

Supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts gathered in Warren Feb. 10 for a “Yes for the DIA” campaign kickoff. In March, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties will decide on whether or not to renew a DIA millage.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

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MACOMB COUNTY — On March 10, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties will decide on whether or not to renew a millage for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

On Feb. 10 at Buddy’s Pizza in Warren, the “Yes for the DIA” campaign kicked off.

“Yes for the DIA” supports the renewal of the County Art Institute Authority Millage, which supports the DIA.

At the event, DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said before the millage originally passed in 2012, museum visitation was about 300,000 a year. He said that number now is close to 700,000.  

The public had the opportunity to pick up lawn signs, write postcards to voters and learn more about the millage renewal Feb. 10.

Jennifer Callans, chair of the Macomb County Art Institute Authority, said the campaign kickoff helps millage supporters feed off of each others energy and excitement of the DIA.

“Even if you’re not a property owner, but are voting for the millage, you still get free general admission to the museum,” Callans said. “Macomb County doesn’t necessarily feel like an artsy community, but the DIA does a lot of work with the school districts.”

If the millage isn’t renewed, Callans said that means no more free general admission.

The millage was first passed in August 2012, when residents of the three counties voted to support the DIA with a 0.2 millage. In 2012, the millage was for 10 years, extending through 2021.

The millage renewal seeks to collect 0.2 mills, which is 20 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property, or $15 a year for a home valued at $150,000. All funds are independently audited and reported on a public website to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately and transparently.

In Macomb County, the 2012 millage passed with 50.5% “yes” votes, about 1,300 more votes than “no.”  

A DIA press release states that highlights from millage-supported programs include: free field trips and free transportation to more than 62,000 students from over 700 Macomb, Oakland and Wayne county schools each year; free weekly programs for seniors, including free bus transportation for group; and unlimited free general admission for all tri-county residents.    

Tony Garcia and his wife Patty Garcia, of Sterling Heights, attended the campaign kickoff.

“We’ve always been interested in the DIA and probably get down there at least three times a year,” Tony Garcia said. “We enjoy it.”

One aspect of the millage that he recently learned about was the free transportation for schools.

“We go down there on a weekday and see a lot of school children, which I think is great,” he said.  

Patty Garcia said regardless if someone visits the DIA, renewing the millage is good for community culture, and that it’s a benefit to neighborhood children.

“To me, the DIA is a world-class gem,” Patty Garcia said. “It’s a benefit to the community which is more important to me than funding sports arenas in Detroit, which they got a lot of money for.”  

Not everyone supports the millage renewal. Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, who represents District 13, which includes most of Macomb Township, said he is against the millage renewal for several reasons.

“If you add up all the money that’s sent to the DIA from Macomb County, and divide it by the number of people who visit the DIA, from Macomb, it ends up costing about $60 a person,” he said.

Drolet argues that it costs Macomb County residents more to visit, than general admission.

“It’s not all free, and everybody pays for it,” he said. ‘They’re talking as if nobody is paying for all that stuff.”

He called the DIA a wonderful place, but said not everyone can afford paying additional taxes for something that’s not a necessity.

Drolet believes that instead of a renewal, the DIA should revert back to a ticket-based policy, with lower rates for students and seniors.

When asked what he would tell someone who isn’t a senior citizen, isn’t a student, and doesn’t visit the DIA, Salort-Pons said if they want to have a region that is a leader in education and business, in a growing community, there is a need for art organizations like the DIA.

“The greatest cities in the world have amazing museums and I think it’s very important to remember that,” he said. “Giving arts education to children at the level the DIA is able to do, is very unique.” 

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