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November 20, 2014

Opinion: Is Detroit's Close Call a Wake-Up Call for Museums?

In the wake of the Detroit of Institute of Arts' escape from being forced to sell works to help pay the city's creditors, a Wall Street Journal culture writer looks at the risks faced by other art museums whose collections are fully or partly owned by government bodies.

After more than a year of legal wrangling and hundreds of millions of dollars in pledges from foundations, a judge earlier this month approved a plan for Detroit's bankruptcy reorganization that safeguards the museum's holdings. The Journal's Lee Rosenbaum says that "excruciating experience ... should be a wake-up call" to other museums with potentially vulnerable collections.

Ms. Rosenbaum writes that several institutions have taken steps to keep their works out of harm's way but also quotes museum directors who downplay any risk, citing the robust fiscal health of their parent cities and counties. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Detroit case, she says, is that Judge Steven Rhodes, in approving the city's plan, explicitly endorsed guidelines from the Association of Art Museum Directors aimed at prohibiting sales of works to pay debt.