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Facts Matter: Why do people keep saying Kevyn Orr wants to sell the DIA’s art?

July 26th, 2013

“Nothing is for sale, including Howdy Doody.”

–Kevyn Orr (In his first news conference after Bankruptcy was announced)

There is an idea ricocheting across America that Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr wants to sell the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection to pay its creditors. That would be an amazing thing, if it were true.

Except it’s not.

WDET has done a thorough search of the public record and could not find a statement by Kevyn Orr or any member of his team that backs up the assertion that he plans or even recommends selling the DIA collection.

This is a significant misperception of the Detroit bankruptcy state of play. The misperception is expanding and picking up speed as more people jump into this high stakes game of telephone. Detroit’s own Toby Barlow, for example, recently wrote that Detroit Emergency Manager Kevin Orr “made the surprising suggestion the city pay its debts off by selling various treasures from the Detroit Institute of Arts.” WDET has not been able to identify any evidence in the public record to substantiate this statement.

Unfortunately, Barlow is not alone and the recycling and expanding of this misperception is making a complicated story less clear.

WDET listened back to press conferences and searched the internet for articles relating to the possible sale of the DIA’s holdings, and found no such suggestion. In fact, there are very few quotes from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr on the subject of art.

Mark Stryker wrote a comprehensive article about the situation on June 30th in The Detroit Free Press. In it, he does not quote Kevyn Orr but states “Orr has said repeatedly he has no plans to sell art.” The Emergency Manager’s Spokesperson Bill Nowling, said “ the complexities of Orr’s negotiations with bondholders, unions and other creditors preclude taking any city assets off the table.”

The article also reports that “Orr’s deputies, including New York investment banker Ken Buckfire, warned DIA leaders at a closed door meeting in May that the collection was a city asset vulnerable for sale, and that a comprehensive financial restructuring plan could require the museum to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into city coffers over the next decade. “

Thursday, Orr was a guest on WDET’s Craig Fahle Show. Listen to what Kevyn Orr said about his intentions:

See the transcript here.

Detroit’s bankruptcy is a complicated story. The emotions around this story are running high. Nevertheless, facts matter and WDET has not been able to identify any evidence in the public record to substantiate the claim that Orr and his team are recommending or making plans to sell the DIA’s art collection.

Further Reading:
The Detroit News’ Daniel Howes says The DIA is gearing up for a bankruptcy fight it hopes won’t come (7.26.13)

The first article from the The Detroit Free Press regarding the sale of art.(5.24.13)

The Detroit Free Press reported “State officials, emergency manager Kevyn Orr and others insist there is no proposal on the table to use paintings or other DIA jewels to pay down Detroit’s $15 billion-$17 billion in bond debts and retiree pension and health care costs. But Orr has spoken with DIA leadership to alert them about the possibility of creditors seeking repayment of debts through sales of city-owned assets such as the museum and its artwork.” (5.30.13)