Posts tagged with: detroit

Visigoths sack RomeThe travails of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the implications for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) continue to garner speculation about the place of art in society and the value of the DIA to the city, both now and in the future.

Emergency manager Kevin Orr has “formally engaged Christie’s to appraise a portion of the city-owned multibillion dollar collection at the DIA.” John Fund at NRO has advised that even a limited number of paintings could be sold, keeping the remainder of the collection intact. This would allow for a reformation of the institution itself, “to make the art in the DIA more relevant to the people who actually live near it.”

Meanwhile, Graham Beal, the director of the DIA, plays a dangerous game of brinksmanship in the media. By Beal’s account, any change to the DIA would result in the shuttering of the institution: “If works of art are sold by anybody, that breaks the operating agreement — then that money ceases to come from the three counties, then the DIA will effectively be closed down.” Such claims continue to be made despite the real danger of liquidation by order of a federal judge and regardless of the realities of the institution’s operating budget. For fiscal year 2011, the DIA had an operating excess of nearly $22 million.

But Beal doesn’t seem inclined to give any quarter to talk about changes to the DIA. Thus he’s called suggestions like mine to “privatize” the DIA “a bit of a fairy tale.” But if anyone is living in a fantasy land, it’s those who think the DIA will be immune to the political turmoil surrounding Detroit. Rather than galvanizing around efforts to save the DIA, political and civic leaders in Detroit seem increasingly intent on looting the collection: “The Van Gogh must go,” said Mark Young, president of the Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. “We don’t need Monet – we need money.” The combined interests of the city’s creditors and pensioners might just be enough to sink the DIA. As Philip Terzian writes, “the financial claims of creditors might well have greater weight than the principle of a distinguished art collection in Motown.”

Barbarians are at the gates of the DIA, and the director fiddles. The best thing for a thriving DIA would be to become fully independent, but by all accounts Beal is uninterested in pursuing such options. Having gained a spot at the public trough, the DIA seems loathe to give it up, even if it means endangering the future of the institution.

First they came for the Picasso. Then they came for the Van Gogh. Then they came for the Rivera…

4109902429_491e5d15d3Photo Credit: Patrick Hoesly via Compfight cc

Following up on last week’s proposal and discussion about the future of the Detroit Institute of Arts in the midst of the city of Detroit’s ongoing budgetary woes, arts commentator Terry Teachout penned a piece for the WSJ about the need for Detroit’s leaders to step up: “Protecting Detroit’s Artwork Is a Job for Detroit.”

Among other things, Teachout writes, “Any argument to keep Detroit’s masterpieces in Detroit has got to make sense to Detroiters who think that pensions are more important than paintings.” Teachout goes on to explore a couple such arguments, but the most salient point is that Detroiters themselves are the best ones to make such arguments.
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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.”

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Detroit is bankrupt. The city government can’t pay its bills. Scores of empty houses and garbage-strewn lots greet anyone who drives down once-bustling streets. There is a lot of finger-pointing, and no easy answers. There are a lot of pieces to MAYOR YOUNGthe puzzle of what went wrong in Detroit.

At The Wall Street Journal, Steve Malanga has a few puzzle pieces to add, and they form the face of former-Mayor Coleman Young. Young was Detroit’s mayor for 20 years (1974-1994), and Malanga calls him a “radical trade unionist who ran as an antiestablishment candidate reaching out to disenfranchised black voters, Young lacked a plan except to go to war with the city’s major institutions and demand that the federal government save it with subsidies.” During Young’s 20 year mayorship, the city’s government became less and less effective, and the middle class (both black and white) got out. (more…)

In this Prager University video, Philip Howard explains how unions are sucking money from city and state budgets across America. This type of financial drain led, in part, to the demise of Detroit. As Howard points out in the video, “Government is supposed to serve the public good, not government employees.”

Douglas Wilson has an interesting take on Detroit’s bankruptcy: “like a drunk trying to make it to the next lamp post.” Why this analogy? Wilson says we first have to understand that Detroit is inevitably in a defaulting situation; the question detroit blightnow is what kind of default.

The only thing we don’t know is what kind of default it will be. The only thing we don’t know is who the unlucky victim of our defaulting will be.

Government does not make wealth. If government has wealth, then this means it was taken. The only way that the government can acquire the means to pay its obligations and debts is by taking it. The only question left before the house is “who will they take it from?”

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In an interview with Vatican Radio, Acton Rome office director Kishore Jayabalan offers perspective on the bankruptcy filing yesterday by the city of Detroit. Jayabalan told the network that Detroit is “really a city that’s on its knees.” Failing to fix its fundamental problems, he continued, the city must now change its “political and economic” infrastructure to come back from the brink, and that right now, much of the population has “given up.”

Listen to the interview by clicking on the media player below:

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Anyone who’s been to Detroit in recent years knows it’s a mess. Acres and acres of abandoned houses, a population decline of 25% in the past 10 years, an astronomical crime rate, and the city is literally leaking money to the tune of some $200 million in two months. Back in March, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency financial manager, and Orr has just released his report on the city’s financial state.

farrier toolsBefore we begin weeping about the death of the Motor City, there are bright spots. Fast Company did a piece in April highlighting entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of low-rent and housing prices and the need for creative work to boost Detroit’s economy. Dan Gilbert is a real estate broker working on filling office space downtown. Andy Didorosi has created a bus service that takes patrons from night-spot to night-spot in safe, fun and comfortable buses. Alicia George has opened a coffee house, and is optimistic that several new businesses have opened near-by.

Now for the bad news. The city of Detroit is paying a farrier (that’s a person who shoes horses) $56,000 in pay and benefits. Right now, in 2013. Let’s just say that he’s not really earning his pay in today’s downtown Detroit. The Detroit Water & Sewer Department is telling the cash-strapped city they need more employees – union employees. And the city’s unionized teachers? They want to cash in unused sick days for over $14 million. (more…)

I was thinking about just this thing after reading an opinion piece in today’s Detroit News from yet another technocrat who thinks he’s got a solution to the city’s deep, decades-old problems. His plan, dressed up with a lot of happy talk about building “vibrant central cities,” defaults to (surprise) convincing Michigan taxpayers that they should fund “local services” for Detroiters. This sort of abstract theorizing, divorced from political and public policy reality, always defaults to more taxes, bigger government and “public-private partnerships” led by corporate execs and teams of technocrats. This has been going on for close to 50 years in Detroit.

The writer of this article, Lou Glazer of the nonprofit Michigan Future, Inc., says the city, and places like Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo (full disclosure: I’m from Pontiac) need new “delivery systems” for services. And light rail and bike paths. “If Michigan will not reinvest in cities, then there needs to be some new system of municipal finance put in place,” he writes. Yes, investment. Nowhere, however, amid all the talk of growing the city with “young, mobile talent” does he suggest that there might be some people in Detroit with new ideas about how to come to grips with the city’s problems. Or do they all lack what it takes to turn Motown into a “talent magnet,” as he puts it. (more…)

Last week, Barrett Clark summarized some key insights shared at the recent Common Good RVA event in Richmond, Virginia. The event was part of Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, which seeks to highlight how Christians are “using their gifts and energies in all sectors of public life—commerce, government, technology, the arts, media, and education—to bring systemic renewal to the cultural ‘upstream’ and to bless their neighbors in the process.”

This week, the project moves its focus to Detroit, one of its target cities, where local artist Yvette Rock shares how God is actively using the work of his people to rebuild what has become a broken city. In a moving video interview, Rock discusses the ways in which she integrates faith, work, and community.

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Rock’s recent project, “The Ten Plagues of Detroit,” focuses on some of the main issues currently tugging at Detroit—“issues of justice, oppression, violence, and homelessness.” Given that these are issues that “also concern God,” Rock explains, she sees no need to separate “art life” from “faith life” in her daily work. “It’s together,” she says. “It’s combined.” (more…)