DETROIT (AP) — Detroit may have to rely on the generosity of strangers to keep its impressive art collection that was amassed with taxpayer dollars in better times.
The bankrupt city is expected to learn this week the value of roughly 2,800 of its pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts when New York auction house Christie’s delivers its final report to Kevin Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager who runs the Motor City’s finances.
Christie’s, which has been poring over the collection for months, said it will include recommendations for how Detroit might make money while maintaining ownership of some of its most valuable pieces — including Degas’ “Dancers in the Green Room,” Pissarro’s “The Path” and Renoir’s “Graziella.” But the city may have to sell off works many consider integral to the cultural soul of the city in order to help repay creditors, including retired public workers whose pensions could take a huge hit.
Orr had warned museum officials of the works’ potential fate, creating an outcry in the art community here and elsewhere.
“I think it’s so important that we can’t let it fail,” said 68-year-old philanthropist A. Paul Schaap.
Schaap and his wife, Carol, have pledged $5 million to help offset expected losses by city pensioners in Orr’s restructuring plan for Detroit.
A local foundation also has stepped up, heeding a call by U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is acting as chief mediator between Detroit and its creditors. Rosen is reaching out to foundations to raise $500 million to keep the artwork from being sold.
“The idea that we would sell even one piece of art … would be so demoralizing to this community that we really can’t imagine the effect,” Schaap told The Associated Press last week. “On the other hand, we really don’t want to see the pensioners hurt. They have a problem here, too, that we really have to address.”
Citing debt of at least $18 billion, as well as rising pension and health care costs and a revenue stream too small to pay the city’s bills, Orr filed for bankruptcy in July. A federal judge on Dec. 3 allowed Detroit to become the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.
Orr is expected to present a plan of adjustment for fiscal restructuring to the court in early January that will include his recommendations for the art.
“Everything is on the table,” Orr told The Associated Press on Thursday. “If there’s money in hand, then we’ll re-address what’s on the table. If there’s a proposal, it is very welcome. We hope it comes to fruition. We hope it is significant, and that perhaps will change the discussion.