I've got a new column up at The Daily Beast, in which I argue that Detroit should the collection at the Detroit Art Insitute (DIA) for up to an estimated $866 million. Not only would such a move make a serious dent in Motown's debt problem, it would also allow the art to be sent to places where it might actually be seen.
Here's a snippet:
What sort of message would it send to current and future residents—not to mention current and future bondholders—if Detroit refuses to put everything on the table? You can't eat the DIA's "Still Life With Fruit, Vegatables, and Dead Game," no matter how well-rendered, and for most of the past 80 years, the city has been subsidizing not just the day-to-day running of the museum but also its acquisitions. Such spendthrift priorities are one small reason why the burg is in such bad shape to begin with (and also why the city has relatively clear title to the artworks under consideration).
Building a future around a slogan like Detroit: Come for the Bankruptcy but Stay for the Bruegel is no way to resurrect a city whose population peaked back in 1950. As urban theorist Joel Kotkin has put it, "We get it wrong. We think the cultural amenities drives the prosperity [in cities], when it's really the prosperity that drives the cultural amenities." Artifacts from past periods of wealth—especially publicly funded museums, sports stadiums, orchestras, and the like—are luxury goods that never pay for themselves, either directly or indirectly. Detroit can rebuild its municipally owned art collection if and when it can afford to cover expenses related to activities beyond the core functions of government. Until then, let the bidding begin!