Oakland County to pull DIA funding if art is sold

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published August 28, 2013

 The Detroit Institute of Arts has received nearly $10 million in funding from Oakland County since the millage passed last year. The Oakland County Art Authority approved a resolution last week that would cancel their existing contract to financially support the Detroit Institute of Arts if the museum’s collection is effected by the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy process.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has received nearly $10 million in funding from Oakland County since the millage passed last year. The Oakland County Art Authority approved a resolution last week that would cancel their existing contract to financially support the Detroit Institute of Arts if the museum’s collection is effected by the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy process.

File photo by Robert Guttersohn

OAKLAND COUNTY — The Oakland County Art Authority has sent a strong statement to those handling the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy: hands off the DIA.

During the most recent meeting of the Oakland County Art Authority Aug. 20, the five-member board voted unanimously to pass a resolution that would cancel their existing contract to financially support the Detroit Institute of Arts if the museum’s collection is affected by the city’s bankruptcy process.

It’s been just over a year that Oakland County residents have enjoyed free admission the DIA as part of a 10-year, 0.2-mill voter-approved levy to fund the museum. Voters in Macomb and Wayne counties entered similar agreements at the same time. So far, Oakland County has raised $9.8 million in tax funding for the DIA.

That contract, however, would be considered broken in the event that items from the DIA’s collection were sold in order to settle the city’s debts, according to OCAA Chairman Thomas Guastello.

“When we entered into this contract with the DIA, certain representations were made in the contract by all the parties. We thought all the tough work was done by the passing of the millage and entering into the contract. Little did we know we’d be where we are right now, which is of great concern,” said Guastello, former state representative and senator who was designated to the authority by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

The specific breach of contract cited in the resolution is Article III, Section 3.1 (B) of the service agreement between the DIA and the OCAA, which states that the art authority would be under no obligation to continue funding if the museum breaks its operating contract with the title holder of the collection, the city of Detroit. That agreement, dated Dec. 12, 1997, prohibits sales from any artwork to go toward anything besides the purchase of other works for the collection. It also requires that any revenue derived from the DIA’s operation and related activities shall only benefit the museum.

Before the art authority approved the resolution, it was approved Aug. 14 by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, and also backed by Patterson.

“This resolution sends a strong message that we shall protect Oakland County taxpayers from any decision that would use the DIA’s millage or assets to satisfy Detroit’s creditors,” Patterson said in a prepared statement. “It’s also a shot heard around the world that we support keeping the DIA’s world-class art collection intact.”

Not only is it the “shot heard around the world,” the resolution acts as a shot meant to be heard by one group of ears in particular: Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr and his team.

“We think that by saying that, it will cause people to take a closer look at whether this is a good idea. No one has ever done this during bad times. No one has ever raided museums like this in America,” said Guastello, who added that he hopes Orr is sincere when he claims he does not intend to sell off DIA assets.

“I want to take him at his word when he says he doesn’t want to sell the artwork. But then he sends in appraisers from Christie’s, and they have thoughts on how we can monetize the collection, which means lending, leasing or selling,” said Guastello. “It’s sort of like your doctor saying you’re in good health, and then he starts measuring you for a coffin.”

With that, he said, the county now can only wait to see what will happen with the saga that is Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, and hope that the DIA and its masterpieces will be spared from whatever comes next.

“We wanted to fund the DIA for future generations, and now there are threats to that. I have children and grandchildren, and it’s something you want to preserve for them. And when friends come in, or even (guests) for business, you always try to find a way to bring them to the DIA,” said Guastello. “It’s a good image of Detroit, instead of the negative ones that are too frequently put out there.”

To learn more about the resolution or the Oakland County Art Authority, visit www.OakGov.com/BOC.