DETROIT (CBS Detroit) Among the many questions to come out of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing was this: “What happens to the art?”
The Detroit Institute of Art is considered a jewel in the city’s crown, with many valuable pieces of art including the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Frescoes, works by Wyeth and Whistler, Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait and William Randolph Hearst’s armor collection.
It turns out the city also owns the original Howdy Doody marionette from the 1950s TV show, from the estate of puppeteer Buffalo Bob Smith — and that has become an odd flashpoint as people across the region try to figure out how the bankruptcy filing hits home.
Howdy Doody One, worth by many estimates at least $1 million, is part of the DIA permanent collection, though it hasn’t been displayed since 2009. The puppet sits in a warehouse.
Since Detroit’s broke, will it be the first thing to go? No, according to state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr.
“Nothing is for sale, including Howdy Doody,” Orr said during his first public comments on the bankruptcy during a Friday press conference.
It came amid questions about whether Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing puts the future of the city’s opulent art museum in jeopardy.
DIA employees were informed by the museum’s legal counsel of the move, shortly after news of the filing broke on Thursday. The DIA issued an official statement, expressing disappointment with the filing and saying they will “carefully monitor” the situation.
“We remain committed to our position that the Detroit Institute of Arts and the City of Detroit hold the DIA’s collection in trust for the public and we stand by our charge to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of all Michigan residents,” said the statement.
Notably, metro Detroit residents agreed a year ago to tax themselves with a .2 mill property tax to help fund the DIA, approving a millage that raises roughly $23 million a year for 10 years.
Detroit’s debt is estimated at $20 billion, a figure Orr says the city could not overcome based on its budget, even if it made payments for the next 50 years.
What happens to the DIA and the rest of the city’s property as it tries to erase its debt through bankruptcy? No one knows for sure, beyond the fact Howdy Doody is safe.
A DIA source, speaking to WWJ on the condition of anonymity, said the DIA will simply continue to provide visitors with the best possible experience … “something everyone here is all exceptionally good at.”