In today’s Acton Commentary, “It’s Time to Privatize the Detroit Institute of Arts,” I look at the case of the DIA in the context of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.
One of my basic points is that it is not necessary for art to be owned by the government in order for art to serve the public. Art needn’t be publicly-funded in order to contribute to the common good.
In the piece I criticize Hrag Vartanian for this conflation, but this view is in fact pretty common and well established. In the Journal of Markets & Morality, David Michael Phelps reviews Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture by Lambert Zuidervaart (Cambridge, 2011), which as Phelps puts it, concludes that “direct subsidies are warranted both in terms of the government’s responsibilities and society’s needs.” Phelps ably dissects the numerous problems and complications with such a view.
The case of the DIA and the various responsibilities of public and private entities certainly is complex. As Graham W. J. Beal, the DIA’s director, put it in the NYT yesterday, the DIA’s situation is “singular and highly complicated.”