Macomb residents sue DIA over special-exhibit fees

By: Robert Guttersohn | C&G Newspapers | Published December 7, 2012

A group of Macomb County residents denied free admission to a Detroit Institute of Arts special exhibit filed suit against the DIA Dec. 6, claiming its officials have not held their promise of free, unlimited admissions.

Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties’ voters approved a .2-mill, 10-year property tax levy for the DIA in August, which permits residents of the three counties free admission to most of the exhibits.

The lawsuit, coordinated by the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance and filed in Macomb County Circuit Court, claims the DIA did not make clear to voters before the election that they would still have to pay for the special exhibit.

DIA officials claimed there was never such a promise made and that they made clear in the weeks leading to the election that the free admission did not pertain to special exhibits.

“The policy was clearly articulated to the county commissioners and county art institute authorities, as well as in news articles …” Pam Marcil, the public relations director, said in a statement.

“Macomb County residents have enthusiastically embraced free admission to the DIA since Aug. 8, when free admission was instituted,” said Annmarie Erickson, DIA chief operating officer.

Erickson said almost 18,000 Macomb residents have visited the DIA free of charge since the millage passed.

According to the lawsuit, the DIA denied the five plaintiffs, all from various municipalities in Macomb County, admission to the special exhibit “Faberge: The Rise and Fall” earlier in December.

“Voters were told they would gain free admission to the DIA if the new tax were approved, and the DIA signed a contract guaranteeing unlimited free admission,” Leon Drolet, chairman of MTA, said in a statement. “Now the DIA wants both the tax and entrance fees. Voters were lied to.”

The plaintiffs point specifically to an Aug. 3 editorial written by Marcil on a local news website.

“Residents of counties that pass the millage will receive unlimited FREE museum admission, free school field trips, expanded programs for seniors and additional community outreach programs,” Marcil wrote in the editorial.

The plaintiffs seek to make all the exhibits free to residents of the tri-county area, something Erickson said could put the special exhibits at fiscal risk.

Currently, only DIA members who pay an annual fee can gain free admission to the special exhibits.

“We have not done a complete analysis on what would happen if they were free, but I can tell you, it could very well put the entire program in jeopardy,” Erickson said.

Regardless, Erickson said the DIA was unambiguous on its admission procedure before the vote.

“We believe we are on firm ground on this issue,” she said.
Call Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at (586) 218-5006.