Judith H. Dobrzynski
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture

Judith H. Dobrzynski's Real Clear Arts

Taxpayers Vote To Give Lifeline To Detroit Institute of Arts

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Voters in Michigan have given the Detroit Institute of Arts a ten-year lifeline. Local reports, including this one in  the Detroit Free Press, say the milage tax passed easily in Wayne and Oakland counties, and by a very slim margin in Macomb county.

That’s good enough: the DIA will now receive about $23 million a year from locals, and Graham Beal, the director, told me two weeks ago that “the tax is levied in December, and we will start getting funds in January.”

It wasn’t easy, though: As Mark Stryker of the Free Press posted in an online story that when I read it was timed at 5:53 p.m. yesterday, supporters of the millage, which I explained here and here, were making calls seeking support among voters in Macomb — rightly so. DIA  Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson, told Stryker: ”We’ve been phone banking every day and every night for the past 10 days. Right now we have 13 volunteers making calls.” She said she was “really nervous” because the results all depended on turnout.

But the end — more about which in a minute — must have been sweet. The DIA had worked hard, getting endorsements from the Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business, the local Chamber of Commerce and dozens of unions, as well as the Free Press.

In July, it  had printed an editorial, Don’t Let the DIA Shut Down, that began, ”Losing the Detroit Institute of Arts is not an option.” (That photo, above, was published alongside the edit online.) Later, it noted:

Consider the alternative. Michigan would have to live with the shame of mothballing a collection that still ranks among the top six in the country. Some of the museum’s finest pieces might travel as part of special exhibitions, accessible in distant cities but not in their hometown. Others, including the world-renowned Rivera Court, might simply disappear from public view or be available only on a tightly restricted schedule.

The edit recounts much of the back story (which I also covered) and then hits hard:

This is the time to commit, as a region, to maintaining more than a century’s worth of artwork, much of it in the form of gifts from some of the region’s most renowned families, and to ensuring that it can be viewed for as many hours a day as possible. More than 4 million people — young families just starting out, schoolchildren, senior citizens and many others with tight budgets — would be able to walk in freely whenever and as often as they choose to do so….

A great art collection like this can expand the horizons of children. Sometimes a single piece can rearrange how you see the world….

Adults, too. 

Of course, the DIA’s fundraising work continues — ideally, it should have a $400 million operating endowment, to throw off about $20 million a year. That now stands at about $89 million. The DIA has used $300 million as a goal, according to other press reports, but I hope it can aim higher.  

UPDATE: Since this morning, early, the DIA website has extended three big THANK YOUs to residents of the three counties — plus that Love button  — and is already offering them free admission and other benefits. Good move.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Free Press

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