The Appearance of Rescue

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.43.45 PM

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” George Bernard Shaw (from Brainyquote)

The Detroit Free Press and other news organizations are reporting that a group of foundations have stepped up to provide funding to save the art and the pensions of the city of Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts. As the city spiraled into bankruptcy, the DIA’s art was pitted against the lack of funding for the pensions of the city’s retirees. A battle had ensued suggesting the mean old art people were in favor of starving the pensioners in order to save the art. For the art it was an unwinnable war. A precious collection was in danger of being sold to the highest bidder to fund the pensions of the city’s retirees. No one wanted to see retirees starve and many art lovers had acknowledged that the art was the likely loser.

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.44.48 PMThese foundations have stepped up to save both the art and the pensions so that no one is the loser. The Detroit Free Press states that nine foundations have come together to pledge $330 million to relieve some of the weight from the cities creditors. The foundations are the Kresge Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, McGregor Foundation, and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

As good as this sounds, it still may not be enough to rescue both the art and the pensions but it is great news. There remains much to be worked out in court. Time will tell. Last week what looked hopeless is now hopeful. It seems the mighty steed of rescue may be riding in after all. No word yet as to whether anybody has discussed what got the city into this mess in the first place. That bit of enlightenment has yet to dawn on anybody.

Photographs shown are from the Detroit Institute of Arts downloadable images page on the website. For more images go (here). Insert photo is the North Wall by Diego Rivera (1932-1933), fresco.

Listening For Approaching Hoof-beats

“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity.” Dorthea Tanning, (from Raven’s Wing Studio)Screen shot 2013-10-21 at 11.07.51 AM

What happens when a valuable collection of art meant to benefit a certain group of people becomes a liability to those same people.  The Detroit Institute for the Arts (DIA) is facing such a dilemma with the city currently in a state of bankruptcy.  The same issue came up with the fate of the Alfred Steiglitz Collection bequeathed to Fisk University by Georgia O’Keeffe.  Like the city of Detroit, Fisk was facing a financial crisis and an offer had been made to purchase the collection.

In an article for the Chicago Tribune (via Art’s Journal), Mark Caro lays out the unique situation of the Detroit Institute for the Arts.  It seems the art in Detroit may actually belong to the people and not the institute because of a tax approved by the voters of Detroit and surrounding counties specifically to finance the DIA.  Can a collection be sold that belongs to the people?  The immediate dilemma is the funding of pensions for retirees versus maintaining the artwork.  The lovers of art are hoping a last minute rescue will come charging in on a mighty fire-breathing steed.  The retirees are hoping not to be turned out in the cold.  And Detroit gets pretty cold!

Fisk University was facing a similar crisis.  As one of the oldest universities in the United States whose mission is to provide a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.”  Fisk is well known for the Fisk Jubilee Singers who have been touring throughout the United States and over seas since 1871.  Read about their history here.  Georgia O’Keeffe’s gift was intended to continue the role of the arts at Fisk.  When Fisk fell on hard times several years back, the collection became a liability because of the high cost of maintaining such valuable art.

Enter Walmart heiress, Alice Walton offering to buy the entire collection for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Arkansas.  Not exactly a fire-breathing steed but a rescue nonetheless.  The problem was O’Keeffe’s will and its stipulations.  The New York Times’ Artbeat blog covered the court case.    The legal battle produced an amicable decision allowing Fisk to be able to keep the collection but transfer some of the costs of upkeep to The Crystal Bridges Museum in a borrowing of the collection agreement.

Emotion runs high when art is caught up in fiscal crisis. Retaining art or survival is a no- brainer to numbers people. But to artists and art-lovers, art is survival.  Artists and art lovers know art equals sanity.  Hopefully, the decision-makers in Detroit know that too. The search for solutions is ongoing.  The call for anyone in possession of a mighty fire-breathing steed has gone out.

%d bloggers like this: