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Detroit Finances Put Cultural Institutions On Edge

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The Detroit Historical Museum (credit: detroithistorical.org)

The Detroit Historical Museum (credit: detroithistorical.org)

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DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - Cultural institutions with assets or collections that are owned by or tied to the city of Detroit are concerned about their own future after word that the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection could be sold to help satisfy creditors if the city seeks bankruptcy protection.

Officials with the Detroit Historical Society, which rotates artifacts from its 250,000-piece collection between two Detroit museums, said they’re evaluating the situation.

“We’re concerned about it,” Detroit Historical Society Executive Director Bob Bury told The Detroit News. “Everyone recognizes that cultural institutions are very important to the community and in many ways define the community.”

Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr last week said the DIA’s collection may have to be sold if Detroit seeks bankruptcy protection. The collection could be considered city assets to cover Detroit’s long-term debt, estimated at more than $14 billion.

The city-owned Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and Detroit Zoo are among the institutions that could be affected. The city also owns most of the grounds of Historic Fort Wayne, and an official there said it’s not known what the future holds for the site if Detroit seeks bankruptcy protection.

“We rise and fall with their fortunes,” James Conway, who works for the city Recreation Department as the fort’s project manager, said of the city.

The city owns the DIA’s building and collection, while daily operations are overseen by a nonprofit. The Detroit Historical Society manages the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, as well as artifacts. Similarly, the Detroit Zoological Society is a nonprofit that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo.

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said no decisions or recommendations have been made to sell any of Detroit’s assets. Nowling said that all of the city’s assets must be itemized, however, “so that we’re able to protect them.”

“This is a very critical time in the restructuring process of the city,” Nowling said. “We have to sit down with our creditors in the coming weeks with a restructuring plan for them to consider.”

Earlier this week, a top Republican in the Michigan Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection to help with the city’s financial crisis.

Democratic Rep. Thomas Stallworth of Detroit is among the lawmakers who have come out against such a possible sale.

“Places such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History are cultural anchors that help make Detroit a world-class city,” he said. “By peddling its paintings and sculptures and selling off pieces of our history and heritage, Orr would be gutting Detroit’s culture and cutting off its rebirth at the knees.”

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr as emergency manager in March with the final say on Detroit’s fiscal matters, told The Associated Press on Thursday that talk of selling the art collection is “premature” and under one form of bankruptcy, some assets are deemed too important to the public to be sold.

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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