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DIA considers regional tax to support museum

River Court inside the Detroit Institute of Arts
Photo courtesy of the DIA
River Court inside the Detroit Institute of Arts

Metro Detroiters may be asked to pay a tax to help support the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The DIA is in talks with commissioners from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties about a possible regional millage to help support the museum.

There’s nothing definitive yet, but if a 0.2-mill tax went through, it would bring in around $22 million for the struggling museum. Oakland residents would pay $19 annually based on average home sales for 2009; Macomb residents would pay $14; Wayne residents $10.

The Detroit Zoo has received public support through a 0.1-mill tax since 2008.

Annmarie Erickson, executive vice president of the DIA, says the  museum is operating at "bare-bone levels." She says if they can’t secure more money, the museum will go into what she calls a “controlled shutdown”:

"We will lose hours, we will probably lose most of our programming, we will certainly lose visitor amenities. Special exhibits like the very popular "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" - we would no longer be able to afford those."

With no state funding, and very little support from the city of Detroit, she says donors are feeling tapped out have what she calls "donor fatigue." And she believes residents would be OK with a millage:

"When people talk about quality of life in this community, the DIA always comes up. We believe people will support us for that."

But as the Detroit News reports, getting voters to approve a millage could prove difficult:

Each county must first approve legislation creating authorities that would simultaneously seek the tax. That could be an easier task than persuading voters to approve it, said Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn. Oakland and Wayne county voters overwhelmingly defeated tax issues in 2000 and 2002 that would have funded the DIA, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and other cultural institutions. And while voters approved a subsidy for the zoo a month before the 2008 stock market crash, they may be less generous with the DIA, Woronchak said. "It has less cache than the zoo. Kids love the giraffes, but they are less likely to see a Rembrandt exhibit," he said.

Erickson says the tax would be temporary, and would allow the DIA to raise much-needed private funds for its endowment, which is around $80 million. Erickson says increasing the endowment is "the one certain way to secure financial stability" for the museum.

A quick look at how some other museum's endowments stack up:

Toledo Museum of Art: $173.8 million

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: $548.4 million

Cleveland Museum of Art: $675 million

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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