In 1949, Alexander Girard curated An Exhibition for Modern Living at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
Image: Life Magazine

It was a ground breaking exhibition which showcased some really great design, like the Saarinen and Albini designs
seen here, the Eames "La Chaise" and also the Eames Sorage Unit. 

Photo: ALEXANDER GIRARD by Todd Oldham & Kiera Coffee

I was up in San Francisco this weekend at Farnsworth.  He had just picked up a copy of 
the An Exhibition for Modern Living catalog and this DIA brochure was inside.

In 1949 the DIA was being touted as the city's "proudest possession". 

Sounds familiar

"Owned by the People"
Detroit is now the 18th largest city in the US  and it's shrinking.

Let's hope we never find out much they'd get for that Calder. (Photo: AP, Paul Sancya)
Now, in 2013, the state of Michigan has hired bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city's emergency manager. He is exploring the idea of selling off pieces from the museum's collection to cover the city's $15 billion debt. It's no secret that Detroit is in bad shape, but the idea of pillaging the DIA's collection to pay off debt is sickening. Talk about kicking a city when it's down.  

The city of Detroit technically owns the museum but does not contribute financially to its operation. The 400,000 people a year who visit the DIA surely contribute a lot to the local economy. And let's face it, outside the people flocking to Detroit to gawk at the dilapidated buildings, the city can use all the tourism dollars it can get. 

It's unclear if selling off the DIA's collection is even legal but the very idea that their emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, is talking about a short-term measure like selling off one of the major pillars of the city, its culture, is disturbing. I suppose that's what happens when a bankruptcy attorney is running the show. He's doing what a bankruptcy attorney does  selling off assets. Coincidentally, some of the city’s major bondholders are clients of Orr’s former firm.  Anyway, furthering the disinvestment in Detroit is obviously not the answer. It's thinking like that which caused the exodus of people out of Detroit in the first place.

Here is the DIA's official statement via Facebook
"The DIA strongly believes that the museum and the City hold the museum’s art collection in trust for the public. The DIA manages and cares for that collection according to exacting standards required by the public trust, our profession and the Operating Agreement with the City. According to those standards, the City cannot sell art to generate funds for any purpose other than to enhance the collection. We remain confident that the City and the emergency financial manager will continue to support the museum in its compliance with those standards, and together we will continue to preserve and protect the cultural heritage of Detroit."
The DIA isn't the first institution that has faced selling off it's collection.  Check out this story at NPR.