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Can the Rescue of the Detroit Institute of Arts Serve as a National Model?

Arts programs across America have not been immune to the effects of the Great Recession. With institutions across the country struggling financially, Terry Teachout looks at whether the voter-approved bailout of the DIA can serve as a national model.
August 18, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The Atlanta Symphony's $20 million debt crisis, the closing of Palm Beach's Florida Stage, and the gutting of the New York City Opera, are just some examples of America's struggling arts environment. What can these and other institutions learn from the 10-year-long dedicated property-tax increase recently approved by voters in three counties served by the DIA?

According to Teachout, "To begin with, the DIA showed it was serious about money by slashing every thimbleful of fat out of its budget. It simultaneously showed itself to be responsive to the wishes of its patrons by undertaking an imaginative reinstallation of the museum's permanent collection that was both user-friendly and artistically responsible. Then, when the DIA asked for public funding, it sweetened the pill with an equally imaginative free-admission plan that targeted not just Detroiters but local suburbanites."

"Contrast the DIA's approach with that of the Atlanta Symphony," writes Teachout, "which is opting for innovation-free budget cutting instead of root-and-branch institutional transformation."

"Cutting is not enough. You also have to think creatively and be willing to take risks, as the DIA did when it asked the people of Detroit and its suburbs to agree to a tax increase."


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Published on Friday, August 17, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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