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Petitioning Mr. Kevyn Duane Orr, emergency manager of the city of Detroit

Prevent sale of works from the Detroit Institute of Arts

In light of the city of Detroit having declared bankruptcy on July 18, 2013, it has been announced that some of the city’s assets, including the renowned collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, could conceivably be sold to pay off the city’s creditors. The collections, which rank among the best in North America, include significant holdings of Italian, Netherlandish, Dutch and Flemish painting. Flemish masterpieces include works by Jan van Eyck, David, van Orley, Massys, Breugel, Cuyp, Hobbema, Hals, van Dyck, Ruisdael, Rembrandt and Rubens. Among the Italian masters represented are Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Fra Angelico, Sasetta, Bellini, Perguino, Titian, Correggio, Parmigianino, Dossi, Bronzino, Carravagio, Veronese, Reni, Batoni, and Tiepolo. The outstanding collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist as well as earlier French painting includes works by Poussin, Claude, de la Tour, Chardin, Fragonard, Delacroix, Courbet, Cezanne, Corot, Degas, Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh. Among the English artists in the collection are Hogarth, Hoppner, Fuseli, Raeburn, Romney, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable, and Millais. All this is no more than a sampling: the museum also holds outstanding collections of American, African, African-American, Asian, and Islamic art, as well over 35,000 prints, drawings and photographs. A vital cultural hub in Detroit and the mid-Western United States, the museum is an institution of international standing and importance. The sale and dispersal of its collections would be nothing short of a tragedy. I am therefore asking you to consider signing the following petition, addressed to Mr. Kevyn Duane Orr, the emergency manager of the city of Detroit:

Dear Mr. Orr,

We, the undersigned, write to express our profound dismay at the news that the city of Detroit is considering auctioning off the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts to meet the city’s obligations as part of the current bankruptcy proceedings. The Institute of Art’s collections are not only among the finest in the United States; they rank among the greatest in the world and contribute to the city’s international reputation. To sell them, in whole or in part, would seal the city’s shame, dispose of one of the most visible manifestations of its proud history, and inflict permanent, irreparable harm on the city as a center for culture, tourism and commerce. One doesn’t help a patient, even one who’s very sick, by cutting out his or her heart. We urge you to resist the pressures being brought to bear by creditors to resort to what would be an act of draconian cultural iconoclasm without parallel in modern times.

Yours sincerely,
Jeffrey Hamburger
Harvard University


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  • Mr. Kevyn Duane Orr, emergency manager of the city of Detroit

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