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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 leslie.ellis@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.

Sue July 25, 2012 at 03:30 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.
Steve Herrington July 25, 2012 at 10:56 AM
I reject this whole Socialist concept of taxing all for the interest of a few. Those with an interest are free to support it and those that have other interests are free to support there's. This Socialist tax, tax, tax mentality is not what America was built on or what made it great.
Brad Young July 25, 2012 at 04:25 PM
I don't have children, but 30% of my property tax bill is for state education and local schools. Where can I opt out of this "socialist" tax?
Steve Herrington July 25, 2012 at 05:13 PM
That's another subject all together Brad but I will say that what education is costing us per child is absurd. Public sector unions and big government are strangling our wallets and the economy as a whole.
Joshua Hunter July 25, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Cities are threatening to cut public safety. We can't afford an art bailout tax.
Shelby Township July 26, 2012 at 10:32 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.
Sue July 27, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Sue Ann Douglas • Top Commenter • Retired County Commissioner at Oakland County 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.
Sue July 27, 2012 at 01:29 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
Karenbea Sewell July 28, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Rob, you state, "I also see the DIA as a resource that can help lead the Detroit region out of a recession." Are you kidding?! Stop taxing me!

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