Wayne State University

Prof. Abt comments on DIA and Detroit's finances...


Detroit Free Press, 11/9

With its art collection saved, DIA looks to the future
by Mark Stryker

The Detroit Institute of Arts leaders spent the past year and a half fighting to prevent the sale of any of its irreplaceable treasures to satisfy city creditors — an epic battle for its life that ended with Friday's court approval of the bankruptcy restructuring plan that preserved the DIA collection. "Everybody is breathing a big sigh of relief with court approval of the grand bargain, but it will still not be easy street for the museum," said Jeffrey Abt, a Wayne State University professor of art and author of "A Museum on the Verge," a socioeconomic history of the DIA. "The problems like the museum's lack of endowment or its political entanglements will still be there, even if they change in kind or degree."



BBC radio, 11/3

The battle for the art of Detroit
by Ekene Akalawu

Jeffrey Abt, professor of art in Wayne State’s James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, discussed the history and development of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and its involvement in the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings.



Detroit Free Press, 5/22/14

House OKs bill to prohibit further DIA millage
by Mark Stryker and Kathleen Gray

The Detroit Institute of Arts once again found itself in the political crosshairs on Thursday — even as the Michigan House in Lansing approved with bipartisan support $195 million in aid to Detroit’s bankruptcy effort. As part of the funding package, the House also approved a bill prohibiting the DIA from seeking a new property tax millage or a renewal of the current 10-year tax in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties that funnels about $23 million to the museum, about 70 percent of its budget. If the bill passed by the House becomes law, it will leave no margin for error as DIA leaders attempt over the next eight years to raise hundreds of millions of dollars toward the museum’s endowment fund — while also raising $100 million as part of its commitment to the so-called grand bargain bankruptcy plan. “It really does put a lot of pressure on the museum,” said Jeffrey Abt, a Wayne State University professor whose book “A Museum on the Verge” chronicled the DIA’s roller-coaster financial history. “Any short fall in fund-raising and they’ll end up exactly where they were before the millage, which was facing possible closure.”



Detroit Free Press, 3/9/14

DIA grand bargain could prove to be a work of art, but not a done deal
by Mark Stryker

In 1919, with the Detroit Institute of Arts in dire financial straits and Detroit’s economy booming, museum leaders ceded ownership of the art and building to city hall in exchange for annual funding. Nearly a century later, history is preparing to do a somersault. Detroit is now bankrupt, the DIA is more financially stable than it has been in decades and the museum stands on the brink of being spun off into an independent charitable trust that would once again own the collection and building. The shift, which has profound implications for the future of the DIA and the restructuring of the city, would come as part of a mediated $815-million deal that would shore up municipal pensions and protect art from sale in the city’s bankruptcy. “An independent DIA is enormously significant,” said Jeffrey Abt, a Wayne State University art historian whose book “A Museum on the Verge” chronicles the DIA’s turbulent history. “It will make the operation of the museum strong and its longevity much more secure. It solves a host of problems, some of them created by the bankruptcy, and it would probably make it a much more popular institution for donors.”



The Detroit News, 9/25/13

"DIA's Beal vows to protect treasures"
by Michael H. Hodges

Wayne State University Art Professor Jeffrey Abt commented in a story about DIA Director Graham Beal’s zeal to protect the museum’s art treasures during Detroit’s bankruptcy process. “Graham took to heart a problem his predecessors had not,” said Abt. “There wasn’t enough revenue from city or state to keep the museum operating, and he had to ramp up fundraising.”



The Detroit News, 9/13/13

"From DIA's formation, no one could have predicted the jeopardy it faces"
by Laura Berman

In her column, Laura Berman discusses the rise of the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1920, when the city took possession of the DIA, to the uncertain future Detroit’s art treasure faces. Part of the problem, says Jeffrey Abt, a Wayne State University art historian, is that art’s market value has risen so much. “The value of individual works of art has entered the public consciousness. In the kind of media-informed society we have today, it’s likely that the average person has some idea that there are works worth a hundred million dollars,” he says. Abt, a scholar who wrote a history of the DIA, imagined many scenarios for the museum’s future. Of all of them, though, he never considered this. “This,” he said, “is like an asteroid coming out of space.”



Detroit Free Press, 6/30/13

"Caught in a political web, DIA ponders fate amid complex bankruptcy talks"
by Mark Stryker

Will the DIA survive the city’s financial crisis, or will collateral damage from the march toward bankruptcy leave the museum mortally wounded? The structure, unique among top museums, has existed in its present form since 1998, but effectively dates to 1919, when a cash-strapped DIA gave up its independence to become a city department. In good economic times, the DIA soared; but in bad times it faltered, nearly closing on more than one occasion and frequently getting beat up in the rough-and-tumble of Detroit politics. “That problem has never gone away,” said Jeffrey Abt, a Wayne State University professor of art and author of a history of the DIA. “The DIA is forced to operate in context very different than any other museum, and the current problems reflect that reality.”



Wall Street Journal, 6/4/13

"Detroit fire sale?"
by John J. Miller

Last month, Detroit's emergency financial manager notified the DIA that its art is a municipal asset and might be sold to satisfy creditors. The art world is watching to see what happens next. "This is unprecedented," says Timothy Rub, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and head of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "I can't believe anyone is thinking about liquidating this public treasure." The AAMD has strict guidelines that prohibit museums from selling art except for the purpose of acquiring more art. Detroit's art museum is one of America's finest, praised for both particular works and encyclopedic range. "The museum has gone through a long period of struggle, but recently it's been doing everything right," says Jeffrey Abt, an art professor at Wayne State University who has written "A Museum on the Verge," a history of the DIA.



The Toledo Blade, 6/2/13

"Detroit's fiscal crisis imperils art treasures"
by Tahree Lane

Art lovers across the country are astonished and outraged that the 60,000 items held for the public by the Detroit Institute of Arts are considered assets by the city’s emergency manager as he does what he’s charged to do: consider all assets and options, negotiate a deal with creditors and stakeholders, and resolve the devastated city’s crushing debt. Detroit’s museum was founded in 1885 as a private nonprofit by wealthy residents, who soon turned to the city for support, which the growing city provided. It was the Progressive Era, when a popular belief held that government could and should improve people’s lives, according to Jeffrey Abt, Wayne State art professor and author of A Museum on the Verge: A Socio-Economic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1882 to 2000.



Detroit Free Press, USA Today, 5/26/13

"DIA art takes center stage in high-stakes drama to decide Detroit's future"
by John Gallagher and Mark Stryker

Jeffrey Abt, an artist and art historian at Wayne State University and author of a history of the DIA, commented in a story about the possibility of selling off some of the DIA’s museum treasures to help pay the city’s debts should Detroit move into bankruptcy. “It’s one thing to sell off a piece of property or take a city department and privatize it,” said Abt. “It’s a whole other thing to take a collection of art and sell it to satisfy creditors. There’s a conflict between two deeply held social values. One is that there are creditors out there who put their money into bonds, and they need to be satisfied,” Abt continued. “But at the same time, a lot of people would agree that the DIA is a public trust, and do you really want to do that? At what point do you destroy a city to satisfy the creditors?”