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DIA running out of options to avoid partial liquidation

Got $500 million to spare? The DIA is looking.

Editor's note: we added a little more information about why the DIA is in this position in the first place. Basically, Detroit's bankrupt.  

There's a growing list of things the DIA has tried and failed to protect its collection from a partial liquidation, if Detroit decides to sell the art in order to help dig the bankrupt city out of debt. 

DIA leaders have called up big donors.

Pitched to local foundations and corporations.

They’ve even asked other museums as far away as the Middle East to rent some of the DIA’s collections.

So far, nothing's worked.

It's not that they don't want to help. It's that the DIA needs a huge amount of money. 

Half a billion dollars, to be exact. 

“No one is willing to step forward and even put together a consortium to try to raise a half billion dollars to go to city debt. That just isn’t happening,” says DIA Chief Operating Office Annmarie Erickson.

That $500 million number comes directly from the Detroit Emergency Manager’s office, Erickson says.

“Let me tell you, a half billion dollars is difficult for anyone to get. And we’ve been trying.”

"It's not an issue of the DIA saving itself."

Erickson pushes back on the suggestion that Rome is burning and the museum needs to save itself.

“It’s not an issue of the DIA saving itself,” she says. “It’s the DIA working with the emergency manager’s office to find out exactly what he’s thinking as well."

We emailed and called the EM’s office asking to verify the $500 million figure, as well as Erickson’s assertion that so far, Orr hasn’t sat down with the museum.

Orr’s office says they’ll get back to us Wednesday, maybe Thursday.

Meanwhile, Erickson says there are a lot of unknowns: how hard is that $500 million figure? Does the emergency manager need all that money at once?  

"Until we have this kind of open communication with the emergency manager, I don't know that there is a plan," she says.

Selling is an "unimaginable" option. But it's an option.

As unpleasant as the idea is, Erickson admits that the  DIA could sell off a small handful of some of its most valuable pieces – just enough to meet that $500 million mark.  

“I think that’s possible. I don’t know that that’s anything those of us working at the museum want to engage in,” Erickson says.

"Selling off the best of the best ... would definitely change the museum."

“Because you would be selling off the best of the best in order to reach that goal. And it would definitely change the profile of this museum. And I frankly can’t imagine it.

"I don’t believe that you sell your cultural heritage. I would like to explore every other option beyond that. When you sell your soul to pay your bills…. I don’t know.”

DIA says state could save them

One of those options for avoiding liquidation could be getting the state to pitch in the half billion dollars over several years, maybe even a couple decades.

Responses to that idea range from total dismissal (“it’s a political nonstarter,” is what the Governor’s office told Erickson) to wariness, to tepid enthusiasm from a few legislators.

Such a plan would probably involve transferring DIA ownership from Detroit to the state – yet another thorny issue that makes the state option seem unlikely.  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.