Predatory creditors have asked Detroit bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to allow them to privately assess the treasures held in the public trust by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Today a formal court filing was made requesting they be included in the appraisal loop. These creditors are apparently worried that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr won’t be willing to sell to the highest bidder.
State Attorney General Bill Schuette has made it clear that the works are off-limits in a statement last June:
“It is my opinion, therefore, that the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the city of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection may thus be sold, conveyed, or transferred to satisfy city debts or obligations.
In issuing this opinion, I recognize the serious financial hardships that face the city, the difficulties that the people who live and work in the city have endured for decades, and the many challenges facing the citizens of the city of Detroit and the state in the future. Yet, in the 128 years since the creation of the Detroit Institute of Arts, at no time have the people demanded that their most precious cultural resources be sold in order to satisfy financial obligations.
To the contrary, the citizens of this state recognize that abandoning or selling the public’s artwork would damage not only the city’s but the state’s cultural commonwealth. In Michigan, we not only appreciate our cultural treasures, we guard them zealously in charitable trust for all state residents, present and future.”
Yet, the creditors have asked Judge Rhodes to appoint a ten-member committee to study how best the artworks can be used to make money to pay-off debts.
On the verge of our national day of giving thanks, let’s take a moment to consider the painting featured above. It’s one of the greatest treasures found at the DIA, titled Cotopaxi . It was a Founders Society purchase made possible by funds from the Manoogian family fund, the Tannahill Foundation, the Gibbs Williams Fund, the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. Fund, the Merrill Fund, and the Beatrice W. Rogers Fund. Acquiring the piece was no small feat.
What makes it so special?
Cotopaxi was painted in 1862 by Frederic Edwin Church, a master of the Hudson River School art movement — an all-American enterprise of the 19th century which drew highly skilled artists to travel to the most remote reaches of the Americas capturing natural wonders on canvas — very large canvases. This particular piece is 48 x 85.
This painting is special for another reason though. The artist painted it in a cathartic period of grief over the loss of two of his children to sudden illness. It is a work representing loss, pain, and transcendence.
Let’s hope that is not also prophetic for the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Amy Kerr Hardin