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Detroit EM Defends Possible Art Sale: 35,000 Pieces Are ‘Free And Clear’

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Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr (Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr (Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

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DETROIT (WWJ) – If you don’t want Detroit to sell the art — you’d better have a better idea.

That’s the word from state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who says the Christie’s auction house will finish its assessment of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection this month.

Speaking Thursday at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon, the EM defended the possible sale of DIA art as part of city’s bankruptcy process.

“When you come into a city, you don’t want to be the person responsible for selling Grandma’s fine china or your wedding silver, so you’re very concerned about this,” said Orr. “But think of this: We have an obligation to our creditors, who are owed a great deal of money… “

Orr said anyone concerned that Detroit’s art museum might have to sell off part of its collection should take the lead in finding other ways to pay off the city’s debts — which he estimates top $18 billion.

“At the end of the day I’m a receiver,” said Orr. “I have a fiduciary obligation to account for all the assets of the city of Detroit; and foremost amongst them might very well be DIA.

“I mean, it is one of the best museums between New York and LA,” he said. “Frankly, I’ve been told it’s one of the top museums in terms of its collection in the world.”

Orr said 35,000 of a total 66,000 pieces of art are “free and clear.”

“That is,” he said, “there’s no bequest or limitation on them.”  Most of that art, Orr said, was purchased in the 1920s or 30s with tax dollars.

Orr said Thursday that he pushed forward with the city’s bankruptcy filing because his window to fix the city’s finances is short, and that lawsuits filed against him and Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year threatened the time he had to do the job.

Orr said that despite all the protests he says he’s getting a lot of support from  Detroiters who simply want to city to improve.

“I meet people in the city and they literally come up to me — some in tears,” Orr said. ” … They’ll say, ‘Mr. Orr, I know you’re doing a difficult job; I appreciate what you’re doing.”

“Because the support I’m getting — despite what you may think — the support I’m getting is quite tremendous,” he said.

On July 18, Orr made Detroit the largest U.S. city to seek bankruptcy protection when he filed a Chapter 9 petition.

He said he knows that the decision to have the city file for bankruptcy wasn’t popular with everyone, but he believes it will be good for Detroit in the long run.

“I’m not saying that this was a benefit for everyone and what a great thing it is to file a Chapter 9,” he said. “What I am saying is that it gives us an opportunity to have a structured environment with federal court supervision for a comprehensive solution for some very real problem.”

Orr says there’s a bumpy road ahead, but three years from now Detroit will be a reinvented city living within its means.

“Frankly, I’m not delusional,” he said. “I don’t think we’re gonna get operations to an honors level, A-plus, but I want to get them to average or above … a city that functions.”

[Detroit Bankruptcy: Complete Coverage]

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