Your Tax Dollars At Art

You may recall that back in 2010 the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) was permitted to put a property tax up for vote on an election ballot to ensure a source of financial support. In return for the property tax increase, which was $20 on a home valued at $200,000, residents of three counties around Detroit would be permitted various levels of access to DIA programming.

Hyperallergic has a follow up report of sorts from Salvador Salort-Pons, Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Eugene Gargaro, Chairman of the Detroit Institute of Arts board of directors. Spoilers – In March 2020, residents of those three counties voted to extend the property tax rate to 2032.

The DIA advocated for this unorthodox approach because there were serious conversations in local government about selling off the institute’s artworks in order to generate sufficient financial support for the organization.

The Hyperallergic piece says DIA negotiated individually with each of the counties, but that generally they were providing the following services:

For each county, the DIA now offers free admission to all residents, free field trips with free bus transportation to all students, free weekly programs for seniors, including free transportation for groups, and a community partnership program where we work directly with non-profits in each county to jointly create programs and events that meet their communities’ specific needs, such as art-making experiences for veterans or those experiencing homelessness.

The article goes on to discuss DIA’s commitment to having the community set the agenda for what the museum should be:

Providing this level of service over an expansive geographic area is not easy, but the rewards extend well beyond the financial support we receive. By being accountable to the residents of our region, we have adapted our programs, exhibitions and even our operating structure to ensure we are giving our diverse communities what they want from their museum, not what we think they should have.

It is good that they state this commitment because a memory of recent criticisms of DIA came to mind as I was reading the article. A quick search and I found articles from March and April about accusations of Salort-Pons fostering a unhealthy work environment and engaging in some ethically questionable practices in regard to some artworks.

I also found a New York Times piece from August 2020 specifically asking if the DIA had lost touch with the predominantly Black residents of Detroit, citing a mixed record of decisions by Salort-Pons.

Given that Covid has allowed for a great deal of introspection and planning about how to move forward, it will be interesting to see if anything happens over the next 4-5 years to shift these perceptions.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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