Detroit Institute of Arts' Ballot Initiative: Need Public Funds


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DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts had been supported by public funds from 1893 to the early 1990s. For nearly 100 years, the City General Fund and private philanthropy provided sole support for the DIA as it grew to be one of the world’s major art museums. An appropriately sized operating endowment – an important component of the business model for most large cultural organizations – was never established.

Today, the DIA does not receive any funds from the state, city, or county. The elimination of all public funding for operations has required the museum to turn almost entirely to the private sector, an operating model that is not sustainable, particularly in the current economy.

The museum’s ultimate goal is to become financially self-sustaining. After considerable research and evaluation, a dedicated millage to temporarily restore public funding for the DIA, which would allow fundraising to focus on building an operating endowment, was identified as the best option to guarantee the DIA’s continuation and eventual non-reliance on public funding.

The DIA is asking for a millage of $0.2 mil for a period of 10 years. It would cost households in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties approximately $15 per year for every $150,000 of a home’s fair market value.

If a 0.2 mil levy is successful in all three counties, approximately $23 million in revenue would be raised: $10 million in Oakland County, $8 million in Wayne County, and $5 million in Macomb County.

The tax revenue will allow an expansion of operating days and hours to better accommodate public and school groups, and it will fund education and public programs and provide support for exhibitions.

The DIA will enter into a contractual agreement with the authorities established by each county to assure that the millage money will be spent according to how the DIA says it will be spent.

To help trim the budget, the DIA has already taken several cost-cutting measures. In 2009, the DIA reduced its workforce by nearly 20% (more than 60 full- and part-time positions), moved from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, and reduced operating expenses to bring its total operating budget from $34 million to $25.4 million.

Because of the high fixed costs required to maintain the facility and protect the art collection, significant cuts beyond the 2009 reductions would severely impair the museum’s ability to operate.

Of the average annual attendance of 400,000 visitors, 32% come from Wayne County, 19% from Oakland County, and 10% from Macomb County. Admissions count for only 3% of the DIA’s revenue. To take in enough revenue from admissions to close the annual operating gap would make the cost to visit the museum unreasonable.

If the DIA is not successful in its millage campaign, there would be a severe reduction of museum services and programs. Museum leadership has outlined different scenarios that include opening selected galleries only on weekends and elimination of school tours, public programs, and community outreach.

The existence of the DIA benefits every resident in Michigan, especially school children in the tri-county area. A cultural resource like the DIA is one element among many necessary for a healthy, vibrant society and is crucial in attracting businesses to the tri-county area.

Counties that approve the millage will receive free unlimited general admission for its residents, including students taking field trips to the museum, enhanced programs for students and seniors, and bus subsidies for seniors and student visits.

There is no limit on individual contributions to the millage campaign, and the money can only be used to support the campaign’s efforts.

The proposal will appear on the ballot in the August 2012 primary election.

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