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A Case for the DIA Arts Millage

'The case for the DIA millage is compelling . . . for future growth in the arts and the economy. That is pretty good return for about $15 per year.'

This viewpoint essay by Royal Oak Patch photographer , who's also a certified planner and design consultant, is reposted with permission from his blog at cityphotosandbooks.com. Guest commentaries can be submitted to judy.davids@patch.com. 

Voters in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties will be asked Aug. 7 to approve 0.2 mils for 10 years, which is approximately $15 per year for every $150,000 of a home’s fair market value. This money will go to provide one of many sources of funding needed to support a world-class art museum: the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As the vote nears for the Arts Millage in southeast Michigan, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is an irreplaceable resource that brings incredible works of art, film, music, and so much more to our collective Detroit community. I personally choose to pay for a membership so I can enjoy these treasures many times throughout the year. My experiences at the DIA have been positive, exhilarating, educational, fun, and memorable.

Residents living in counties that approve the millage will receive free unlimited general admission, including students taking field trips to the museum, and there will be enhanced programs for students and seniors and bus subsidies for visits by seniors and students.

Making this resource available to residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties for no admission fee will broaden the ability of the DIA to reach out and enrich the lives of the people living here. Additionally, it will put the DIA on sound financial footing, helping to offset the losses in other funding sources that have occurred over many years.

I also see the DIA as a resource that can help lead the Detroit region out of a recession.

Detroit is already attracting young people, and it has particularly seen a surge of young adults under 35 years old with technology-based backgrounds. The writings of economic development adviser Richard Florida and others have documented how young people are seeking "place" over the highest-paying job. A world-class art museum and the other cultural resources in Detroit will help to fuel the growth in young professionals living in the City.

The overall value of the arts in a community is well-documented. Adrian Ellis, a cultural planning consultant, wrote and spoke in 2003 about four sets of partially overlapping arguments that have been particularly influential:

Economic: Investment in certain arts has a high "multiplier effect," generating direct and indirect expenditure, through the first round of construction or other investment related activity and subsequently by attracting inward investment and tourism, and thereby creating jobs.
Social: Investment in the arts can ease social divisions by creating a context in which otherwise socially disempowered groups can participate in society on a more equal basis; and it creates ‘social capital’.
Psychological and personal: Participation in the arts can accelerate intellectual and motor skills.
Civic: The civic argument, an amalgam of the above, is that a city with a vibrant cultural infrastructure, in which a range of different forms of public and private sector investment in the arts are undertaken, can create a virtuous circle of high economic performance, high inward investment, high educational attainment and high levels of civic engagement.

I believe the case for the DIA millage is compelling. Its failure would be disastrous for the region’s economy, its culture, and its people.

By approving the millage, the DIA not only maintains the treasures of the past, it enables the museum and the region to leverage these resources for future growth in the arts and the economy.

That is pretty good return for about $15 per year.

JH July 24, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I believe that world class museums are a must if Michigan wants to attract talented young people to Detroit. Without the museums and arts, why would anybody who had the chance to move to NYC, Chicago, SF, LA, Seattle, Portland, etc. ever decide to move to Detroit instead? They wouldn't... While one museum isn't likely to make or break the decision for people to move, having access to world class arts and entertainment are necessary if we wish to attract more of the type of people who can help pull Detroit up and back to it's feet. Without this, we're just going to continue the downward spiral of companies moving out of town, jobs disappearing, and falling property values. That's worth $15 to me...
Around Town July 25, 2012 at 02:11 AM
If you want to attract young talent than create a product worth paying the $15.00 at the door. You only have to create a tax when the product doesn't carry it's own weight. This article makes too many promises with double speak so I'm going to vote no....
Sue July 25, 2012 at 03:28 AM
If the DIA really wants to 'stay open', why doesn't it dedicate every penny of millage money to an endowment for operations? Then I could see a beginning and end to this millage. Instead, the entire $23 million is being dedicated to every day operations and the DIA says that it will then raise funds for an endowment for Operations. Why should I believe them now when for 130 years the museum, under various management, has chosen to ignore the future and spend when the cash flowed and hold out their hand to taxpayers when times get tough? There is nothing in the service agreement between the county and the DIA that requires the DIA to raise operating endowment funds. I fear that once they have taxpayer money in hand, they will once again forget about the future.
Alan Stamm July 25, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Detroit Metro Times gets on board today: "Frankly, we have a hard time remaining even a little bit civil when we hear the no-tax crowd whine about having all taxpayers fund something that not everyone uses. They miss the point, which is this: There are things that benefit us all, even if we don't use them. ". . . We're only talking about a measly 15 bucks a year. What's really shocking is that anyone at all would be raising a stink over paying such a piddling amount to help fund something as important to this region as the DIA." [http://bit.ly/O7ndw9]
JH July 25, 2012 at 12:03 PM
It's well worth $15, but actually costs $8. Ticket prices pay for only 3% of general funding. Unless they could attract just as many guests at ~$300 a ticket, there is no way the museum could "carry it's own weight"... and it's nearly unheard of for a museum to do so without a huge operating endowment... which they are trying to build up.
JH July 25, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Because then it wouldn't have any money to operate... I don't think you thought this one through... Nearly every museum receives tax dollars, this one was not managed any differently than others around the world.
Shelby Township July 26, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I don't see how the DIA, with $100 million of unrestricted funds and a total fund balance of $175 million, can claim they they'll fail (close their doors) without these millages. Part of their operating plan is to increase their fund balance to $400 million by the time the millages expire in 10 years. Doesn't sound like they're going broke to me. It just looks like they want the tri-county taxpayers to bail them out from the tax cuts they received from the state. If this was such a good plan why don't the ballot proposals mention that the County Art Institute Authorities will be turning over the monies they collect to the DIA? Why do they say an Institute Services Provider instead? Was this done to confuse voters into thinking the millages were going to support Art in their own county? Very shady.
JH July 27, 2012 at 12:18 PM
It's because people like you aren't bright enough to understand that the DIA benefits those of us in neighboring counties, not just those in Detroit. Bail them out from tax cuts? This sentence does not make any sense whatsoever. Nearly every major art museum is supported by tax dollars, as the DIA once was. Their tax revenue was cut off entirely and they are asking for a small portion of it back, so that they can focus on building up their endowment fund to the point where they will be able to keep the doors open strictly off of interest / returns on investments. If the DIA closes, you can watch your property value fall by a lot more than $150 (total cost of the millage over the 10 year period for somebody who owns a $150,000 house).
Sue July 27, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Representative McMillin is exonerated - the DIA is crying wolf. Furthermore, if the tax passes, the DIA will NOT use the tax revenue for an endowment for operations. The fund that they currently refer to an an endowment for operations is just a voluntary DIA Board-restricted budget set-aside and what the Board restricts, it can use for anything with a simple vote of the Board. The DIA's plan is to use the requested tax revenue for operations while they raise funds for an operating endowment. Through various management, over almost 130 years, they have not seen fit to drive money into a real endowment for operations so why should we trust them to do it now? The DIA seems to like to play word and number games during this election and the money that Rep. McMillin has referred to - they called an endowment when it really isn't a legal endowment. A real endowment takes permission from the heirs and the court to use for another purposes - a much trickier process than a simple vote of the DIA Board. Debate on the DIA's finances heats up - The Detroit News http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120727/METRO01/207270393
Sue July 27, 2012 at 12:49 PM
I've found three sets of numbers for who visits the DIA. The orginal list was sent out by the DIA to the media and said that 19% of the visits were from Oakland County, then I found numbers based on paid admission that said that 28% or the payers were from Oakland, and now, they say that it's always been 34%? Come on DIA people, I know that you've tried to clean your old numbers off the web but you weren't successful. Now you have the nerve to basically call the one brave writer who hasn't sided with you and me liars? Remember the old adage: Figures never lie, but liars figure. And, here's another one: If the shoe fits, wear it! DIA Tax Face-off: The Museum vs.Walker http://www.michiganview.com/article/20120726/MIVIEW/207260494
JH July 27, 2012 at 12:51 PM
This is senseless nitpicking of words. You want the heirs and the court to be required to provide permission for the use of the funds? What heirs? Donations and/or fundraising proceeds do not come with heirs. Also, you are blaming the current management for 130 years of decision making? What planet are you on?!?
Shelby Township July 27, 2012 at 02:31 PM
@JH I'm glad to know that I'm not "bright enough to understand". By reading your responses to other people's posts you just seem to have all the answers to what anyone says that doesn't support your point of view. Were all those people who took pay cuts able to ask their employers for a portion of it back? Why don't they adjust their budget to fit their reduced income? Why does the director need to make over $350,000/year? If they need money so badly why are they offering free admission to tri-county residents if the millages pass? And, by the way, my property value will not be affected one penny if the DIA were to close. Quit making unsubstantiated claims...you sound just like the DIA.
JH July 27, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Russ, good to know you're glad! "Were all those people who took pay cuts able to ask their employers for a portion of it back?" - I'm sure you could try. Also, please note that the DIA cut 20% of their staff in this downturn. They're feeling it too. "Why don't they adjust their budget to fit their reduced income?" - They have cut their budget, and a large portion of their staff. To further reduce the budget, they will need to progressively reduce hours, eventually being open for zero hours a week - which is exactly what they've said publicly. The alternative is to pass this millage. "Why does the director need to make over $350,000/year?" - I cannot confirm that this is what he makes, but I'm sure his pay is in line with other comparable museums. This is the 4th best art museum in the country with over a BILLION dollars worth of art in it's collection. You aren't going to have somebody competently manage the collection for minimum wage. "If they need money so badly why are they offering free admission to tri-county residents if the millages pass?" - Admission contributes 3% of operational costs. If they become tax funded, would you prefer they don't let us in for free? Go to DC sometime and look around - the tax funded museums generally are free for the tax-paying public. Why charge people twice? Yes, property values will drop if the area becomes even less attractive of a place to live.
Shelby Township July 27, 2012 at 02:55 PM
@JH Thanks for proving my point. You have all the answers, until someone puts something in their post that you can't refute. Then you say you "cannot confirm that this is what he makes". Why don't you know the answer to that one? You seem to have all the other answers. The actual figure is $351,137 take a look here: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120727/METRO01/207270393/1409 Regarding your comment about "They're feeling it too"...yes, they are feeling it, they're feeling the green in their pockets..."Director Graham Beal's base salary rose to $351,137, up 7 percent from 2009. Erickson's base pay rose to $206,768 in 2010, up 18 percent from 2009." Sounds like a familiar song, lay off the workers and give yourself a pay raise. Show me hard proof that my property value will decline if the DIA were to close. Nobody ever asked if there was an Art Institute in the area when I was selling any of my previous homes. People do ask about schools, police, fire and libraries. I agree with you that they "will drop if the area becomes less attractive of a place to live" but, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, the DIA isn't going to determine that.
JH July 27, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Russ, it has never been my goal to provide "all the answers" or refute everything. It's up to YOU to refute that the pay of those running the DIA is out of line with comparable museums. It's not. You are simply upset and jealous that other people make far more money than you do. I have no hard proof, and you have no hard proof of the contrary either. I do NOT expect anybody to decide not to buy a house in royal oak due to the lack an art museum if the DIA closes, and have never claimed such a thing. However, it is harder for companies to attract talent from out of state, or retain talent here, if the area is less desirable due to a lack of culture. Close all the museums and cultural institutions and you'll see business move to other cities. If there are less jobs, there is less demand for housing and property values will fall.
Shelby Township July 27, 2012 at 03:30 PM
@JH I'm hardly "upset and jealous that other people make far more money than" I do. I earned enough money during my career and invested it wisely so that I was able to stop full time employment a few years back (before you make a comment it was my choice) and still live a comfortable lifestyle. It's enabled me to spend time helping out my community and doing volunteer work (I don't need the money). But thanks for caring about my financial situation. Have a great day!
JH July 27, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Russ, I was generalizing and I apologize for incorrectly calling you jealous. On numerous articles on Patch and elsewhere anytime a high salary is mentioned there are multiple comments about how it is too high and it's not right that anybody makes a lot of money. People fail to realize that the value created by some individuals does justify very high salaries, which I believe is the case here. I'm glad you're not jealous and that you are doing well financially. Also, thanks for giving back to the community. I completely disagree with you on the issue of the DIA millage and will continue to do so, but I do apologize for the inappropriate and incorrect name calling.

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