Save the art: Pittsburgh has a couple lessons for Detroit

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Detroit is in appalling financial shape. The city hasn't balanced its budget in years, it has a debt load of $15 billion and it is governed by a state-appointed manager.

Pittsburgh, by comparison, can count its blessings that it is faced with only state fiscal oversight.

The differences between the two cities don't end there. Pittsburgh's main artistic treasure chest is secure in the hands of the Carnegie Institute, a nonprofit institution in Oakland, but Detroit's masterpieces are the property of the municipal-owned Detroit Institute of Arts.

As reported by a Block News Alliance story Sunday by the Post-Gazette's Tim McNulty and The Toledo Blade's Tahree Lane, the 60,000 art works held for the public by the DIA are considered assets by Detroit's emergency manager and by Michigan's governor. That means paintings and sculptures could be sold to reduce the city's debt.

That would be a crime against the community. The DIA is far more than a museum -- it is the biggest jewel in that region's cultural life. The institute is home to a stunning array of art from across the ages, including its signature Diego Rivera murals of life in industrial Detroit. No one can calculate how much the art museum has added to the city, in money or quality of life.

Detroit faces a short-term future of austerity and sacrifice. Although Pittsburgh's financial problems were not nearly so severe, it is still proof that spending limits and fiscal discipline can help a city turn the corner.

Those now in charge of Detroit's financial future should take a lesson from Pittsburgh and the Carnegie. Leave the public's art in private nonprofit hands and address the city's debt by transforming city spending.

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