Detroiters are up in arms at the suggestion in my column today that the treasures in the Detroit Institute of Arts might be better off in museums in younger, growing cities. They have completely understandable parochial interests -- and local pride -- at stake. But they also have bankruptcy staring them in the face.
There is, however, a way Detroit could raise money and share its art with other cities without relinquishing its treasures altogether: a time share.
The model is a deal that financially strapped Fisk University, a traditionally black school in Nashville, made last August with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded in 2005 by Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton. Crystal Bridges paid $30 million for a 50 percent stake in a collection of more than 100 works that the artist Georgia O’Keeffe had donated to Fisk in 1949. The collection includes O’Keeffe’s own “Radiator Building” and “Flying Backbone” paintings, as well as works by such modern artists as Cezanne, Renoir and Picasso.
Under the agreement, the collection will rotate between the two owners, spending two years at each place. It goes on display at Crystal Bridges in November, and Fisk plans to use the freed-up gallery space to show other works from its collection.
The Fisk-Crystal Bridges deal was complicated by the terms of O’Keeffe’s gift, and the university spent millions in legal fees. Detroit faces no such hurdles, since the city bought many of the DIA’s works in the first place and owns them without any strings.
Finding a partner or partners to buy shares in individual works or selected portions of the DIA’s collection would give the city a way to liquidate some of its assets without actually losing them. The old strategy of finding an American heiress to save the family estate may be an option after all.
(Virginia Postrel is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)