Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Detroit Institute of Arts deal and cultural planning

Since the 2007-2008 Economic Crash, which has been terrible for parks, museums, and other cultural facilities in terms of lost funding, I have made the point that our framework for cultural planning needs to be more expansive, that "local plans" need to acknowledge cultural assets within their geography that are owned by other entities, regardless of whether or not they are independent, city, county, state or federal in terms of ownership and operation.

This is for two reasons:

(1) circumstances can change, as they did during the aftermath of the crash and the vast loss in revenues by state governments leading to the shut down of parks in many states, or in how the most recent Federal Government shutdown led to the shutdown of "local" National Park Service installations across the country, which harmed tourism and local economies ("Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes" ).

Graphic from the San Francisco Chronicle, "70 California state parks fall to budget ax."

Without a plan, local governments are at a loss and reactive when they need to move quickly.

E.g., in California, a number of "state" parks are now run by local entities, such as how the Santa Barbara Preservation Trust funds and runs the El Presidio State Park (a historic fort dating to the 1780s), even though the park is still owned by the state.

Similarly, as part of "helping out Detroit," financially, the State of Michigan has taken over the Belle Isle Park on a long term lease.

But the process to get to that place was difficult and more problematic because such contingency planning hadn't been in place.

-- Save our State Parks campaign, California State Parks Foundation
-- Save Arizona State Parks campaign, Environment Arizona

(2) Usually county, state, and federal planning processes for cultural assets don't fully address "local needs."  If local agencies and plans don't represent local citizen-resident interests, who will?

The bankruptcy of the City of Detroit raises a third, not unlike the proposal to dissolve the Corcoran Gallery of Art ("Corcoran dissolution: cy pres petition"), in terms of control of civic assets when circumstances change.

While in most cities, museums tend to be nonprofit corporations incorporated separately from city or county governments, in Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Arts is owned by the city.  (The Corcoran is different, it's held by a nonprofit which in effect has voted to dissolve.)

That made all of the art within the museum, even if donated and paid for from non-city sources as most of it was, part of the collateral-asset base of the city and subject to seizure for the payment of the city's debts, regardless of restrictions on the gifts, because in Bankruptcy Court, such restrictions on the use of assets can be removed.

To prevent that from happening, an unprecedented coalition of mostly major, national, foundations, all with significant connections to Detroit or Michigan, some smaller "local" foundations, and some local corporate support came up with $336 million to provide to the bankruptcy proceedings in order to stave off seizure of the DIA's artistic assets.   ("The Foundation Tally of Detroit’s Unprecedented Grand Bargain," Nonprofit Quarterly)

If the museum had been separately incorporated, that wouldn't have been necessary.

That's the kind of issue that needs to be considered within broad-based cultural master planning and generally is not.

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