After a yearlong, $2.5-million publicity campaign urging Michigan voters to help save the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the museum grasped a financial buoy on Tuesday. Three counties in the metro Detroit area approved a special property tax earmarked for the institution. The so-called millage tax is expected to raise $23 million starting in January and will assure the museum’s financial security for the first time in 20 years. Its coffers have flagged since economic downturns in the early 1990s caused both the city of Detroit and the state to begin withdrawing resources and ultimately cease funding the institution altogether.
Residents of the counties who voted yes—Wayne, Macomb and Oakland—will receive free admission. Of the museum’s 400,000 yearly visitors, 79 percent live in one of these counties, according to the museum. The millage tax will last for 10 years and will cost each homeowner $15 per year for every $150,000 of a home’s value, according to the campaign’s website. The museum also plans to institute expanded programming for seniors and students as well as extended hours for all visitors.
The DIA’s financial woes have historically stemmed from an over-reliance on government funding and therefore a lack of real effort in building the museum’s endowment, according to analyses by local news sources including the Detroit Free Press. The millage tax is designed to temporarily cover operating costs while the DIA embarks on a 10-year campaign to increase its endowment from $98 million to $400 million.
In 2009, DIA reduced its budget by nearly $10 million and laid off 20 percent of its employees. Had the millage tax not passed, the museum would have reduced hours, public programs, special exhibitions and staff even further, according to comments made by DIA executive vice president and chief operating officer Annmarie Erickson to local news sources.
The museum immediately instituted free admission on Wednesday morning. More than two-dozen staff members lined the steps to the museum’s entrance and greeted visitors with applause.
Photo: DIA Director Graham Beal, by Paul Erickson.