One step towards solvency in Detroit is to sell its assets including those at the Institute of Art. It’s called bankruptcy. As John Fund writes:
The Detroit Free Press asked New York and Michigan art dealers to evaluate just a few of the 60,000 items in the Institute’s collection. The experts said the 38 pieces they looked over would fetch a minimum of $2.5 billion on the market, with each of several pieces worth $100 million or more. That would go a long way toward relieving the city’s long-term debt burden of $17 billion.
Just the idea of selling art to avoid painful budget cuts that could send city-employee retirees into poverty in their old age elicits howls of anger. “Bidding stuff off is completely ridiculous,” Bill Shearrod, a grant manager for a Detroit nonprofit, told the Detroit News. “The DIA is the spirit of Detroit.” Local philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman said “it would be a crime” to sell any part of the collection. “It’s not just an asset of Detroit, it’s an asset of the country,” he told the Detroit Free Press. Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette issued a statement asserting that the art is actually held by a charitable trust and not owned by the city. But federal bankruptcy law trumps any state law, so his argument is on shaky ground. Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, took note of the criticism in his first news conference after Detroit’s bankruptcy was announced on July 19. “Nothing is for sale, including Howdy Doody,” he said. But his spokesman Bill Nowling later explained that Orr couldn’t take anything off the table in negotiations with creditors: “We’ve got a responsibility to rationalize all the assets of the city and find out what the worth is and what the city holds.