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Detroit: There's Art at Its Heart

10/29/2013 10:25 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Last week I saw an article in the LA Times: "Should Rembrandt, Van Gogh help bail out a bankrupt Detroit? "

As I read the story, I kept thinking these words made no sense. There is no room in my head for the conversation. So I read it again.

The story describes how "Christie's appraisers enter on Mondays, when the museum is closed, and either inspect what's on the walls or ask to see some of the thousands of works not on display, sometimes sending Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) technicians on half-day missions to find pieces in deep storage and prepare them for examination."

Huh?

I found myself reading this the same way you might replay a car accident in your head -- with everything from visuals of the event to the sounds of breaking glass and bending metal.
In the last century, when Detroit's big thinkers first planted the "art" seeds that eventually grew into a world-class institution, could they ever have imagined, in their wildest dreams, a scenario like the LA Times chronicles?

The DIA is a place that for decades has been a beacon to Detroit -- despite some very hard times. In my mind, the DIA is the closest thing the city has to a natural resource.

If California went bankrupt, would they chop down the redwoods to sell lumber? What do you end up with? A few bills paid and a lot of ugly stumps.

Born in Detroit, I was raised on a steady diet of the DIA's "You Gotta Have Art!" the toe-tapping TV campaign of the 1970's sung to the tune of "You Gotta Have Heart" from Damn Yankees.

I am not a financial expert. Though as the founder of an organization with an interest in public health and prevention, I find it counterintuitive -- and counterproductive -- to remove anything healthy from a city that clearly needs so much.

The DIA is not about Detroit's history; it's about its future. The notion of using the great Masters to mop-up decades of bad management eliminates a vast toolbox with instruments designed to inspire and improve the future of Detroit and its children.

The DIA is not just a soul-nurturing healthy space. It is an institution that works to spark the brain inspire dreams and bigger thinking. In the work for prevention, those are the essentials in raising the bar for human health.

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