The Detroit Institute of Arts (photo by Jason Mrachina, via Flickr)

In an unprecedented move, nine local and national foundations have pledged $330 million to help the city of Detroit settle its bankruptcy, the Detroit Free Press reported. If used, the money will go towards funding the city’s underfunded pensions and ensuring that the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) will not be sold.

Since Detroit was ruled eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in December, federal judge Gerald Rosen has been working on a “grand bargain” to solve the city’s financial straits. Detroit’s public pensions are facing as much as a $3.5 billion deficit, and a number of unions, along with other city creditors and emergency manager Kevyn Orr, have been pushing to find a way to monetize the collection of the DIA.

The foundations’ pledge is an attempt to ensure that doesn’t happen. It isn’t foolproof, as the Free Press writes:

U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen’s statement made clear that the pledges do not by themselves mean that the city pensions and DIA art are now beyond the reach of creditors. Rather, the commitments are intended and expected to play a part in what Rosen’s statement called “an overall balanced settlement of disputes in the bankruptcy.”

But it would offer a huge source of financial relief. The plan may also help facilitate a move of the the DIA from city control to state, according to the New York Times. (State legislators are a mixed bag on the issue: Attorney General Bill Schuette said the collection couldn’t be sold, while Governor Rick Snyder has called it an “asset.”)

Nine foundations are involved in the deal: Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Kresge Foundation, Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, William Davidson Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, McGregor Fund, and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Local philanthropist Paul Schapp has also offered $5 million for the deal, and the Community Foundation has set up a fund that’s already brought in 130 more pledges (sums are undisclosed).

Welcome to America, where Kickstarter raises more money for creative projects than the entire budget of the National Endowment of the Arts, and a bankrupt municipality gets bailed out by a group of private and public foundations.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

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