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Should Art Sale Help Save Detroit?

May 31, 2013
Originally published on May 31, 2013 12:37 pm

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk. That's where we hear from you. Editor Ammad Omar is with me once again. What's going on today, Ammad?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Hey Michel. Earlier this week we talked about Detroit and there's word there that the city might have to sell off artwork at the famed Detroit Institute of Art because Detroit is almost $16 billion in debt and facing possible bankruptcy. Well, that got the letters coming in from coast to coast, Michel. Cleo Dyer from New York City writes in, I strongly believe that Detroit should sell anything it can to help the city, masterpieces and even land owned by the state are fair game. Collectors and museums would pay millions and the city would benefit.

MARTIN: Listener Jonathon Polan(ph) lives on the other coast. He's in Seattle now but he says he lived in Michigan until he was 18 and he says, quote "I grew up in Detroit and I'm not talking about the suburbs. The DIA is one of a handful of bright spots in the city. One of the few positive memories I have of Detroit is the DIA. If the city were a body, the DIA might be its heart."

And he goes on to say that the residents of Detroit have a history of making terrible leadership decisions and if they think that selling off the DIA is going to save them, they're making yet another one. Thanks Jonathon and Cleo.

OMAR: Well Michelle, I caught up with Michigan Senate majority leader, Randy Richardville. He's a Republican from the southern suburbs of Detroit and he agrees with people like Jonathan who says the DIA is part of the region's identity. Richardville introduced a bill this week that would require Michigan museums to follow the American Alliance of Museums ethics code that would prohibit them from selling artwork for any reason other than raising money to buy other art or to take care of existing collections.

Here's what Richardville says about his idea.

STATE SENATOR RANDY RICHARDVILLE: People are coming up and saying that they like the idea of preserving this art, they like the idea of protecting these iconic ascots that help define the City of Detroit. Now some people question whether or not the state law like this would supersede a federal bankruptcy court and, you know, that's kind of a David versus Goliath situation. But I'm a believer in state's rights and I would remind people though that David did win when he went up against Goliath.

OMAR: Michel, what he's talking about there is this argument that the city might not have a choice in the matter, that these are city-owned assets and creditors could demand that they be sold. Either way, Michigan's treasurer, Andy Dillon has been quoted as saying, "We'll probably know more details about Detroit's plan on how to get out of this $16 billion debt in the next month or so."

MARTIN: Thanks so much.

OMAR: Thank you.

MARTIN: And remember, at TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can visit us online at NPR.org/tellmemore. Please remember to leave us your name. We're also on Twitter. Just look for #tellmemorenpr.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.