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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Detroit heads to the Pawn Shop

Desperation has hit a new low in Detroit.
Last week, Emergency Manager (and bankruptcy lawyer) Kevyn Orr decided to list the holdings of the Detroit Institute of Arts among the city’s assets in preparation for a possible bankruptcy. If the city goes through with it, it could be forced to sell off any of its assets—which now include the museum’s collection.
Museum administrators are outraged, but the choice may be keeping the art or paying for vital public services. According to Orr, the city has “long-term obligations of at least $15 billion, unsustainable cash flow shortages and miserably low credit ratings that make it difficult to borrow.” But as the WSJ reports, the city may not have a choice:
“Kevyn Orr doesn’t want the collection sold,” Mr. Nowling said. “But in bankruptcy, it could be eyed by creditors.” [...]
But legal experts say that in a municipal bankruptcy, it is possible for a city to sell assets, even cultural icons. James Spiotto, a bankruptcy attorney and author on municipal-finance issues based in Chicago, said that “in order to provide essential government services like public safety, roads and education, certain other programs are going to be curtailed or eliminated. So it’s not surprising that the sale of art is on the table.”
The collection, which include treasures by Bruegel, Rodin and van Gogh as well as Diego Rivera’s famous “Detroit Industry” murals, is ostensibly worth billions of dollars, but those measures can’t really capture what such artistic treasures mean to a community.
Unfortunately the city is already struggling to keep the lights on. Local businesses recently had to step in to buy the city police cars and ambulances. Meanwhile, Detroit has closed nearly a quarter of the city’s firehouses, and the department’s equipment is beginning to fall apart. At this point, the city may need the money more than it needs the art.
This is another grim reminder of just how destructive Detroit’s corrupt machine politics have been. At one time, Detroit was the manufacturing capital of America and one of the country’s great cities; today it’s trying to stave off a kind of modern-day bonfire of the vanities.
Every time Detroit seems like it’s about to hit rock bottom, a trap door opens to reveal yet another howling abyss.
[Detroit image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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