Canada official lauds DIA, city for grand bargain

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Count on the Canadians to be gracious.

Speaking Wednesday evening to a mixed Canadian and American crowd of about 60 business and political leaders at the Detroit Institute of Arts, David Johnston, governor general of Canada, praised the city’s recovery from bankruptcy and the critical role the DIA played in that process. He cited in particular the civic spirit that raised funds from foundations and businesses alike to safeguard the museum’s collection.

“I know what transpired here to save this collection from being sold,” Johnston said in the museum’s Rivera Court, “how this art collection was the key to striking the ‘grand bargain’ that allowed Detroit to move forward in such difficult times.”

The governor general is the British crown’s representative in Canada, appointed by the queen on recommendation from the Canadian prime minister.

Johnston, who hails from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and came into office in 2010, said he was deeply impressed by the popular backing the museum won during the two years of bankruptcy. “You might say the DIA is in your DNA,” he said.

But hard times, Johnston noted, have sometimes been the midwife to great bursts of creativity, and he cited Renaissance Florence as an example. That city’s artistic flowering in the 15th and 16th centuries grew out of a chaotic political environment, Johnston said, with civil war and menace the order of the day.

Yet Florence, like Detroit, he suggested, benefited from great leadership, which in the Italian case helped animate the whole culture.

“To leap from Florence to Detroit,” Johnston said, “you’ve brought something great out of chaos here, too,” adding, “Canada rejoices when its friends and neighbors succeed as you have done here.”

And Detroit’s importance to the nation, he suggested, cannot be overestimated. He quoted Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, who called Detroit “a metaphor for America, for America’s challenges and America’s opportunities.”

Beaming at the back of the crowd, Deputy Mayor Isaiah McKinnon called Johnston’s remarks “absolutely tremendous.”

DIA director Graham Beal found the address spot on, as well, saying it struck him as both “gracious and elegant,” as well as “an interesting mix of erudite quotes and facts.”