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July 25, 2012

Detroit Art Museum's Future Hangs on Property-Tax Vote

With voters in southern Michigan set to decide next month on a new tax to support the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Free Press examines the past policies that put the respected museum in dire fiscal straits.

Residents of Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties will vote Aug. 7 on a proposed 10-year property-tax "millage" on homes above a certain value that would raise an estimated $23-million a year.

Free Press arts writer Mark Stryker says the museum is paying for its failure to develop a large endowment to generate investment income on a scale that keeps peer institutions in other cities relatively healthier. The Detroit Institute has raised $321-million since 1992 but put most of it into operations to cover budget gaps left by the reduction and eventual elimination of state support.

The museum says it would use the temporary tax to build an endowment and has pledged free admission to residents of counties that vote "yes" and to boost educational and community programs. Without the millage, the institute says it will have to drastically reduce hours, exhibitions, and programs, but critics liken the proposal to a taxpayer-funded "bailout."