On August 13, 2013, the Detroit Institute of Arts announced that it is willing to sue in order to avoid any attempt by emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr to sell off pieces of its collection. Everyone knows that decades of financial maleficence, corruption, post-industrial economic forces and racial tension have colluded and forced the city into bankruptcy. Everyone also knows that the DIA collection is an important and valuable element of Detroit’s remaining cultural capital.
Art critics, museum directors and the art blogosphere have quickly and dramatically elevated the collection in public discourse. The intensity and magnitude of this privileged space in the public conscience is rare for an art institution, even for the venerable titans in Los Angeles and New York — as well as for their counterparts in Europe.
The DIA and Detroiters should resist the collection sale. And the art world, especially the smaller, community-based arts institutions, needs to vigorously engage in the debate about Detroit’s art, and draw lessons from that discussion that are applicable to local art scenes. These two positions grow from a common basis, namely, the exponential growth in media coverage of the DIA collection in the last year. Both domestic and international news sources are publishing pieces on Detroit’s art.