June 5, 2014 at 7:56 am

Nolan Finley

Needed: Grand bargain for rest of Detroit's jewels

Leaders of those cultural organizations that aren’t the Detroit Institute of Arts say they are 100 percent supportive of the “grand bargain” that will raise more than $800 million to protect the DIA’s artwork. But ...

“... am I worried? Yes,” says a museum director. “I think about it every minute of every day.”

What he and others in the nonprofit world are worried about is that the massive commitment to the DIA from corporate and foundation donors, and the state, will drain the pool of available funds and leave them thirsty.

Detroit’s philanthropic community is fairly small. A reliable few foundations, individuals and businesses provide much of the money to keep the charitable and cultural institutions going. Most of the old reliables are committing heavily to the “grand bargain.”

“No one is telling us no,” says the head of a downtown cultural organization. “But they are reluctant to commit themselves to additional fund raising initiatives. We are starting to hear the DIA funds come up in more conversations.”

Paul Hogle, executive vice president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, says fundraising at the DSO has not been affected. He sees the challenge ahead for Metro Detroit nonprofits as expanding the universe of donors, including thinking beyond local borders.

“The rest of us have to really consider what is our strategy and how do we present it to funders,” Hogle says. “And what is our commitment to Detroit beyond our art? How are we prepared to go out and serve?”

Hogle, whose organization is in the midst of a 10-year, $125 million endowment drive, suggests nonprofits tap into both the growing enthusiasm and sympathy for Detroit.

“A lot of people want to help the city now,” he says. “There are a lot of potential donors who aren’t yet participating. People all over the country are starting to look at Detroit.”

Hogle and others say the large commitment to the DIA should come with a serious discussion of how the arts will be supported in Metro Detroit long-term, and constant reminders that other institutions need resources, too.

“This can’t be the generation that decides the only arts priority is serving the DIA,” he says. “It can’t be either/or. We have to think about what we want the arts to be in Detroit.”

This community obviously values its cultural jewels — witness the passage of tax millages for both the Detroit Zoo and the DIA. And while the “grand bargain” ultimately is structured to protect Detroit retirees from steep pension cuts, it wouldn’t have happened had foundations not been fearful the DIA might be raided to satisfy city creditors.

Not all of the cash that will flow to the DIA is new money, despite assurances from the foundations and companies they won’t back off other giving. The demands of the “grand bargain” are bound to impact other institutions.

Those who love the city and understand the role culture plays in its health must forge a separate “grand bargain” to assure saving the DIA doesn’t come at the cost of sacrificing other valued treasures.

nfinley@detroitnews.com
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