Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

So, news this week:  A group of foundations have stepped in to bail out the Detroit pension plan in exchange for securing the art collection at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and turning that venerated institution into a nonprofit organization.  Foundations:  $330 million.  Detroit:  uhhh, we’re going to need $500 million.

A little background, “We’re broke, the whole town is for sale,” is the favorite game of a certain brand of eastern Rust Belt Public Administrator who can’t manage a budget.  It usually ends with a rather active local election cycle followed by the recruitment of a new Public Administrator.

A little more background, like most other “publicly funded” cultural facilities, the DIA has essentially been a nonprofit for decades with much of its funding and resources coming from private sources of one kind or another, leveraged with foundations, a regional tax (see the article), state money, federal grants, etc.

When the $&!^storm that is Detroit (pardon my Wingdings) went down for the umpteenth time late last year (supposedly), one of the items listed in the “Asset” column by the powers that be (you can’t really be a Receiver, can you, if there is not Receivership yet?) was the art collection at the DIA.  Christie’s was called, estimates were made, tallies were tallied.

Of course, the genteel raised a hand, cleared their throats and attempted to point out that “Detroit” Institute of the Arts, or no, many of the “Assets” of the organization were loaned and not actually the assets of the DIA or Detroit, or they were conveyed as restricted gifts or purchased with donations that were restricted.  Of course, things always slip between the cracks, and one could talk about the Spirit of an institution . . . .  And the point was also made that companies like Christie’s tend to charge rather high commissions . . . .  And, of course, many of the genteel who raised their hands were the people and organizations that put the art there in the first place.

I wonder how much they spent on the appraisal?

Meanwhile, back at the nonexistent Fire Station that was nonetheless budgeted $10 million for a renovation and upgrade . . . .

Another pressing issue is the fate of thousands of City of Detroit pensioners and their retirement benefits.  You see, in addition to the various former Mayors and City Council Members (classify as in jail/ on their way to jail/ on parole/ it’s been more than 10 years so it’s no one business), there are a lot of retired at $25,000 former administrative and wage grade workers who are very worried about their pensions.

So, the very foundations that made the DIA one of the premier cultural institutions in the World take a deep breath and come up with some funds to hold together one of the last decent things in Detroit.  And tried to cut a deal that would also address one of the other highly distressing aspects of the mess, the potential effect on pensioners.

If anyone out there needed a 500 words or less refresher on why Detroit is deep infected hole in the Middle of America, well, there ya go.  Seriously, this is what happens when someone tries to help those people.  Which is why no one is trying to help them, really.  The powers that be in what used to be the Motor City found two assets—an art collection and a what was left of the Middle class that might have something nice to say about the place.  What do they do?  Hold them out the window by an ankle and threaten to let go.

What’s next?  I would joke about reinstituting slavery, but what goes on in that town already has.

So is this a vent?  Yeah.  Like anyone else with a connection to Michigan, I’ve been waiting a long time to see that town turn around and see something good come out of it.  Instead, it just continues to sink to new lows like some disastrous relative who after passing out drunk into the wedding cake at your cousin’s wedding proceeds to walk into Grampa’s house while he’s in the hospital and take the silver that was promised to your sister, and then tops it off by taking your car without permission (stealing) to sell the silver at a pawn shop to buy a gun and convincing your nephew to go with him to the liquor store and wait in the car while he goes in and it turns out he’s robbing the place and even shoots someone and then the cops show up at your house and you get arrested and then you’re, like, my car is gone and when they track the Creep down he claims it was all the nephew’s idea.

And, of course, like anyone else with a connection to Michigan, every time the bottom falls out of Detroit’s latest bottom, it hurts.  Scar tissue that I wish you saw.  It does make you tough, it does.

No wonder the State won’t help them, the feds won’t help, and, aside from the foundations that put the art there in the first place, neither will anyone else.  Is their Rehab for Cities?

You can just hear the, “We don’t have any resources, we can’t do anything, we don’t have resources,” paired with the inevitable head shake.  Last people in the World to give anything.  :S

About missbodie

The Dragon Lady is a life long tea drinker. Her first coffee shops were Big Boy and the Oriental Diner in downtown Milwaukee. She lives in our Nation's Capital with three bicycles and an energetic tabby cat.
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