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City of Detroit considers selling its art to pay the bills

"It's very low hanging fruit when you have a collection that's worth billions of dollars," Mark Stryker told Seattle's Morning News.

Detroit has found itself in a financial crisis. How will they get out of it? It might come down to selling off some of the city's most prized cultural heritage.

"The city is under an obligation to look at all of its assets," explained Mark Stryker with Detroit Free Press. Much of the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum is city owned, bought by Detroit when the city was booming in the early 20th century.

A city manager has been appointed by the governor to look at everything that could help fix the city's financial woes - and that includes the original Howdy Doody puppet, a Matisse, a Rembrandt, a Van Gogh, and a Bruegel.

"It's very low hanging fruit when you have a collection that's worth billions of dollars," Stryker told Seattle's Morning News.

While the art collection hasn't been "taken off the table," which is how Stryker knows it's still on the table - Detroit's city manager is working to balance a lot of different agendas, interests, and laws. He's trying to figure out a way out of a financial morass, including Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy.

Works that have been donated by private donors likely wouldn't be at risk. Stryker estimates that many of those likely came with conditions that they couldn't be sold. And even though the museum boasts a strong puppet collection (including Howdy Doody) its "priceless worth" may not translate to dollar signs.

As it turns out, the aforementioned Bruegel, "The Wedding Dance," has an estimated value of $100 million.

"What we've got here is this really fascinating and tragic sort of combination of a high stakes poker game and on the one hand, it's being played out in terms of finances, but on the other hand, it's really this extraordinary morality play," said Stryker. "[It's] about the cultural soul of this city and what happens when you begin to sell some of these iconic works that are so identified with a city's art museum."

About the Author

Alyssa Kleven is an editor and content producer at She enjoys doting over her adorable dachshund Winnie - named for Arcade Fire front-man Win Butler.


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