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Macomb County says 'no' to proposed DIA millage

For the first time in 15 years, the Detroit Institute of Arts has a staff of three in its contemporary art department.
Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts wanted to ask Macomb County residents to pay a tax to help bring in much-needed cash for the museum, which has already cut 20 percent of its staff and reduced its budget.

But county commissioners killed the idea.

Wayne County Commissioners last month voted to create an arts authority to look at getting a DIA millage proposal in front of voters.

But Macomb County didn’t even get that far. The millage proposal never made it out of a committee meeting because there wasn’t enough support to kick it forward to a full board vote.

Oakland County has yet to vote on the proposal.

Annmarie Erickson is the DIA’s Chief Operating Officer. She says they're "continuing to speak with officials in Macomb County about the importance of the DIA and its educational programs for school children throughout the region."

The Detroit Free Press reports several of the Macomb County commissioners questioned the future of the DIA:

Several commissioners questioned the timing of the ballot initiative, saying it should be geared toward a general election when more voters would be expected to participate and not during the August primary as this attempt would be. Many of the same commissioners also questioned the fate of art in a museum owned by the financially struggling City of Detroit that would, in part, become funded by Macomb County taxpayers. Erickson sought to assure commissioners that the art would be protected from sale regardless of Detroit’s situation, said the cost of a millage campaign in a general election would be prohibitive and told commissioners that Macomb County residents would get free admission to the museum if they approve a millage. Commissioner Don Brown also questioned the wisdom of asking voters in his northern Macomb County district to fund a museum when they are already stretched financially and might have limited interest in the museum. “It is not a priority right now,” he said. “I just can’t see placing another tax burden on the taxpayers of our region.”

Michigan Radio spoke with Erickson in February about the proposed 0.2 mill tax proposal, which she said would raise around $22 million for the museum. At the time, she described the DIA as operating on a bare-bones level:

She says if they can’t secure more money, the museum will go into what she calls a “controlled shutdown”: "We will lose hours, we will probably lose most of our programming, we will certainly lose visitor amenities. Special exhibits like the very popular "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" - we would no longer be able to afford those." With no state funding, and very little support from the city of Detroit, she says donors are feeling tapped out have what she calls "donor fatigue."

The millage would be temporary, and would allow the DIA to raise private funds for its endowment, which is around $80 million. Erickson says increasing the endowment is "the one certain way to secure financial stability" for the museum.

A quick look at how some other museum's endowments stack up:

Toledo Museum of Art: $173.8 million

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: $548.4 million

Cleveland Museum of Art: $675 million

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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