The deal late last week to end Detroit’s bankruptcy also means the city’s art museum didn’t have to sell much of its famous art:
As many outlets are noting, the bankruptcy could have been far lengthier, and even more painful for retirees, had it not been for an unusual deal designed to save the Detroit Institute of Arts while minimizing cuts to pensions. The museum has been owned by the city since 1919, and its collection, appraised at $4.6 billion, includes works by the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Matisse, as well as Bruegel the Elder’s masterful The Wedding Dance. In April 2013, the city’s governor-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, informed the DIA that it would have to contribute at least $500 million to paying off Detroit’s debts, even if meant selling off paintings at auction. Creditors also demanded a sale, because, you know, they’re creditors.
Instead, the museum essentially went on an ambitious fundraising drive, in which it managed to raise more than $800 million, including $330 million from nine different philanthropic foundations. Another $200 million came from the state of Michigan, which, despite Gov. Rick Snyder’s protestations that he wouldn’t bail out Detroit, did apparently feel compelled to preserve some of its cultural heritage.
In return for the money, the deal will essentially “ransom the museum from city ownership,” as the New York Times puts it, placing it in control of an independent charitable trust.
It sounds like foundations and others that gave money to the art museum not just helped preserve the museum’s finer pieces but also raised extra money for the museum. Given that many urban supporters these days laud the positive influence of arts on urban development, perhaps the museum can play a bigger role in helping to revive downtown Detroit with some of that extra money.
At the same time, it is interesting to consider some of the tradeoffs in Detroit leaving bankruptcy: is it better to preserve art (often something passed down from generation to generation) or to cut the pensions of employees and retirees? Save big culture or provide more money for people living in the community? Perhaps this is an overly simplified comparison but raising hundreds of millions for art could have very different outcomes than raising that money to help residents.
A Harvard sociology course with $100,000 in grant money to distribute sounds like a cross between the work of a typical intro-level social problems course and what foundations do:
While most Harvard College students focus on what they will take away from a course, students who enroll in Sociology 152: “Philanthropy and Public Problem-Solving” this spring will have the opportunity to give back—in the form of $100,000 in grants to Boston-area non-profits of their choice.
Students enrolled in this new course will split into teams based on area of interest. Each team will conduct research on a particular social issue, ranging from homelessness to education reform, and will eventually choose a local organization to provide with a grant.
The Once Upon A Time Foundation, based in Fort Worth, Texas, has donated $100,000 for students enrolled in the course to distribute to non-profits. The foundation has funded similar courses at Stanford, Princeton, Yale, and various colleges in Texas.
Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Christine W. Letts and Senior Research Fellow James L. Bildner will co-teach the class, which will be open to both College and Kennedy School students. “It’s an exceptional opportunity,” Bildner said.
An opportunity indeed.
While this could be good practice, I wonder if students might reach another conclusion: handing out just $100,000 is not enough to tackle serious social problems. Even major money sources like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can only do so much.
I’m guessing that it is a pretty unique sociology course at Brown that has students work in teams to give away $15,000:
Receiving $15,000 for a college class might sound like a laughable dream, but in SOC 1870A: “Investing in Social Change,” a course offered by the Department of Sociology in conjunction with the Swearer Center for Public Service, that is exactly what happens. There is, of course, a catch — students do not keep the $15,000, but instead work in teams of five to award the money in grants to one or more community organizations.
After reading about a philanthropy-based class at another school, Martin Granoff P’93 approached the Office of the Dean of the College about funding a similar class at the University. They brought the idea to Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center for Public Service and associate dean of the College for community and global engagement, who then approached Associate Professor of Sociology Ann Dill about co-teaching the class…
This past year there were 34 applicants for the 18 spots.
In addition to assigned readings, the class also features a number of speakers, a majority of whom are Brown alums who work for Rhode Island or Providence nonprofits.
Obviously, it takes a good amount of money to make a course like this happen but it sounds like an exciting opportunity.
I wonder if a class like this is best-suited for a wealthy school like Brown where students could easily end up in positions to give away corporate, government, or private money or for less-advantaged schools where being able to give away this amount would put students in a more unusual position.