Michigan AG Says No-No to DIA Arts Sale


Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has legally opined that the art at the Detroit Institute of Arts can’t be sold to help pay off the city’s massive $15 billion to $17 billion debts.

Detroit Institute of Arts

According to Thursday’s Detroit Free Press:

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“The art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the City of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection may thus be sold, conveyed, or transferred to satisfy city debts or obligations,” Schuette said Thursday in a statement.

The state attorney general has backed that statement with specifics in a 22-page legal opinion that such a sale would be opposed to state charitable trust law. The Free Press quoted a lawyer specializing in art and cultural history issues who responded to Schuette’s legal opinion:

“It’s a strong opinion,” said Eden Burgess, a lawyer at Cultural Heritage Partners in Washington, D.C. “He cites laws, documents and agreements that in theory and taken together would bind the city and the museum to maintain the collection for the people of the state of Michigan.”

Still, the news article notes that legal opinion differs on the city’ position:

Art law experts have previously told the Free Press that it would be difficult to convince a judge not to consider city-owned art an asset that could be sold in a bankruptcy proceeding.

The possible sale of art from the multibillion dollar collection at the DIA has become a hot-button issue as Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr explores strategies for restructuring the city’s crippling $15-billion to $17-billion debt. Orr, who is expected to offer creditors less than 10 cents on the dollar when he unveils his comprehensive plan on Friday, has said he has no plans to sell art.

A week ago, a Michigan legislative committee approved a bill to protect the DIA’s collection as the city restructures its debt. You can read the mlive.com article on the bill, which includes a link to the full Senate committee summary, here. CFR reported May 24 on the DIA being in danger of having to sell the masterpieces in an article here.