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Guest Commentary: A Case for the DIA Arts Millage

'The case for the DIA millage is compelling . . . for future growth in the arts and the economy. That is pretty good return for about $15 per year.'

Guest Commentary: A Case for the DIA Arts Millage Guest Commentary: A Case for the DIA Arts Millage

This viewpoint essay by Birmingham area photographer , who's also a certified planner and design consultant, is reposted with permission from his blog at cityphotosandbooks.com. Guest commentaries can be submitted to laura.houser@patch.com. 

Voters in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties will be asked Aug. 7 to approve 0.2 mils for 10 years, which is approximately $15 per year for every $150,000 of a home’s fair market value. This money will go to provide one of many sources of funding needed to support a world-class art museum: the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As the vote nears for the Arts Millage in southeast Michigan, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is an irreplaceable resource that brings incredible works of art, film, music, and so much more to our collective Detroit community. I personally choose to pay for a membership so I can enjoy these treasures many times throughout the year. My experiences at the DIA have been positive, exhilarating, educational, fun, and memorable.

Residents living in counties that approve the millage will receive free unlimited general admission, including students taking field trips to the museum, and there will be enhanced programs for students and seniors and bus subsidies for visits by seniors and students.

Making this resource available to residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties for no admission fee will broaden the ability of the DIA to reach out and enrich the lives of the people living here. Additionally, it will put the DIA on sound financial footing, helping to offset the losses in other funding sources that have occurred over many years.

I also see the DIA as a resource that can help lead the Detroit region out of a recession.

Detroit is already attracting young people, and it has particularly seen a surge of young adults under 35 years old with technology-based backgrounds. The writings of economic development adviser Richard Florida and others have documented how young people are seeking "place" over the highest-paying job. A world-class art museum and the other cultural resources in Detroit will help to fuel the growth in young professionals living in the City.

The overall value of the arts in a community is well-documented. Adrian Ellis, a cultural planning consultant, wrote and spoke in 2003 about four sets of partially overlapping arguments that have been particularly influential:

Economic: Investment in certain arts has a high "multiplier effect," generating direct and indirect expenditure, through the first round of construction or other investment related activity and subsequently by attracting inward investment and tourism, and thereby creating jobs.
Social: Investment in the arts can ease social divisions by creating a context in which otherwise socially disempowered groups can participate in society on a more equal basis; and it creates ‘social capital.'
Psychological and personal: Participation in the arts can accelerate intellectual and motor skills.
Civic: The civic argument, an amalgam of the above, is that a city with a vibrant cultural infrastructure, in which a range of different forms of public and private sector investment in the arts are undertaken, can create a virtuous circle of high economic performance, high inward investment, high educational attainment and high levels of civic engagement.

I believe the case for the DIA millage is compelling. Its failure would be disastrous for the region’s economy, its culture, and its people.

By approving the millage, the DIA not only maintains the treasures of the past, it enables the museum and the region to leverage these resources for future growth in the arts and the economy.

That is pretty good return for about $15 per year.

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