News

Voters Rescue Detroit Institute of Arts

by Jillian Steinhauer on August 8, 2012

Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts (click to enlarge, photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The proposed millage to help keep the Detroit Institute of Arts afloat passed all three counties yesterday — woohoo!

The tax levies .2 mil on homeowners in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties for the next ten years, which amounts to $15 a year for a homeowner whose house is valued at $150,000. The museum estimates it will bring in $23 million each year, money that the DIA will use to pay for operations. In the meantime, it will devote its fundraising efforts to strengthening its endowment.

In exchange for passing the millage, residents of all three counties began receiving free admission to the DIA today.

The museum offered Hyperallergic this statement:

We are ecstatic that the millage passed in all three counties, and want to thank voters for showing their support at the ballot box. We encourage them to take advantage of free museum admission beginning today, and to enjoy the several exhibitions and programs available. We look forward to implementing additional programs and community services in the coming months.

The Detroit Free Press has a breakdown of the vote: apparently the measure passed by a wide margin in both Wayne and Oakland counties, with 69% in favor in the former and 64% in the latter (with 85% of the vote counted). In Macomb, however, the vote was extremely close, with the tax passing by only 1,340 votes. In all, 50.5% of Macomb primary voters were in favor of the tax, while 49.5% were against.

Curious why this might be the case, Hyperallergic spoke with Jennifer Callans, executive director of the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens, Michigan, which is the county seat of Macomb.

“I think that Macomb County has traditionally got a very strong blue-collar identity,” she said. “There really is a strong, almost Protestant work ethic — a ‘we take care of things’ sort of way of looking at it. So I encountered people who just wondered why we would send tax money to Detroit.”

Callans also said that some voters she spoke with were misinformed: they figured that because the city of Detroit is in a shaky financial state, it would be risky to send money there. But the funds for the DIA are being handled by a separate fiduciary body.

“The biggest challenge that an art center like ours faces — and the DIA faces this challenge, too — is education,” Callans said. “Getting people to understand, what is an endowment? What is the role of the board and the staff, and in relation to the volunteers, and how do they function in the community? This is all very difficult stuff to communicate.”

In that she saw a silver lining to the sometimes harsh debate over the millage: “When these issues come up, we have a chance to reach out to people and educate them, almost one at a time.”

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