As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, anyone in the tri-county area can visit the Detroit Institute of Arts for free.
The former admission fee has been tossed to the wind thanks to voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties passing the Arts Authority Millage, more commonly known as the DIA millage, on Tuesday.
Tri-county voters approved a tax of 0.2 mills for the next 10 years to fund the arts authority.
“We feel wonderful,” said Annmarie Erickson, the DIA’s chief operating officer. “We want to thank voters throughout the area with coming out for such a strong showing of support. We are so deeply appreciative of the work of our staff and volunteers and everyone who got behind this campaign and pushed it forward to a successful completion.”
A Party Atmosphere
About 200 supporters gathered in the DIA's Prentis Court on Tuesday to watch the election results trickle in.
Among them was Tim Sullivan of Royal Oak. The operations manager of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Credit turned his own vehicle into a billboard for the DIA.
He used DIA posters to create a sun visor that he used in his car whenever it was parked. He said he always made sure to back into parking spots so that others could easily see the DIA message he was sporting.
“The DIA is an institution that is worth saving,” he said. “I come here regularly on Friday nights for concerts and I come here for the exhibits. … It truly is a resource that belongs to the community and the community really does need to help support it.”
After posting hundreds of Facebook messages urging support of the millage and posting just as many signs and posters throughout the community, Sullivan said the Tuesday night party was well deserved.
“I can honestly say I did everything in my power to get the word out, to get support and to get people to vote,” he said. “I’m just here to celebrate tonight.”
Bernadette Lussier of Grosse Pointe also was celebrating Tuesday night at the DIA.
The attorney by day, DIA volunteer by night, spent several hours over the last few months at a calling center where she phoned voters in Macomb and Oakland counties, urging them to support the millage.
"The reactions were a nice mix,” she said. “A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of people wanted to share their stories of the museum and all the special exhibitions.. … Some people were very adamant about not wanting to support any additional taxes on their property and I respected their opinion. And others were just very fond of the city of Detroit and hope it does well.”
After her day job on Tuesday, Lussier spent a couple hours working the polls in St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights.
"Some people didn’t even know about it and were really receptive once I explained it to them," she said. "People tend to support the DIA once they know about it."
Voters Come Through
The proposal passed narrowly with 50.5 percent of the vote in Macomb County, with all 353 Macomb County precincts reporting. It looks to pass with a much larger margin in Oakland County. With all 522 percent of precincts reporting, 63.7 percent of voters were in favor of the millage. The proposal passed with 64.4 percent of the vote in Wayne County, with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
Erickson is the first to admit that watching the results come in Tuesday was a nail biter.
“It was closer than we would have liked, but it feels good,” she said. “This has been such an incredible team effort on the part of so many people. ... "The volunteers and the staff at this place really put themselves out. It was this crazy energy and they put so much into it. And they get the payoff tonight, which is wonderful."
At 0.2 mills, a taxpayer owning a $200,000 home, with a taxable value of $100,000, would be expected to pay about $20 a year.
While these values will vary county to county, the millage is expected to generate at least $9.8 million from Oakland, $4.9 million from Macomb and $8.3 million from Wayne.
In return for this financial support, residents from the supporting counties, including school groups, will receive free admission to the museum for the next decade.
These public funds, about $23 million per year, or $230 million over the next decade, will be used to cover the museum’s operating expenses and not to increase the museum’s endowment.
“We’ll take the proceeds from the millage (and) use them to cover our operating expenses,” Erickson said. “We will then turn our fund-raising skills to building an unrestricted operating endowment – our future nest egg.”
Erickson said museum officials hope to increase their $100 million endowment to $350 million in the next 10 years.
“At that level, we will be able to live fairly well of the interest at the core of those endowments," she said. "We’ll take 4.76 percent of that investment income and apply that to our operating expenses.”
The museum will never touch those core investments, which will allow the core endowments to continue to grow, Erickson added.
“This will allow for the creation of a completely different financial model," she said.
Per the Art Institute Service Agreement the DIA has entered into with each of the counties’ arts authorities – whose members are appointed by the respective counties’ commissioners and county executives – the tax can be withheld if the DIA is believed to have breached its contract.
The money raised can only be spent in compliance with the contract between the arts authorities and the DIA – none of it can go into the City of Detroit’s treasury. An annual audit will ensure the money is being spent appropriately.
Full Support, from the Top Down
Graham Beal, director of the DIA, is recovering from laryngitis, but didn't let his sore throat keep him from making an appearance at Tuesday night's election party.
“This has been a fantastic team effort,” he told the crowd of supporters. “It’s been a long haul. … Everyone who is in this room tonight has made a tangible contribution to this successful effort and I want to thank you. “
Beal said voters have given the DIA a new lease on life. One in which he said he hopes never has to rely on taxpayer funding again.
“We can now begin to make serious plans for the next 10 years,” he said. “We’ll use those 10 years, amongst other things, to make sure we never have to go through this process again.”
Beal said he came to the DIA with a mission and he's finally beginning to think that it could come true.
“I came to Detroit 13 years ago,” he said. “I knew that there were certain things I wanted to do as far as the art collection. We did that with the new DIA opening in 2007. I had a second notion that we would be in a position to solve the DIA’s ongoing financial stability problems.
"Six years ago, that looked like a completely lost cause. We knew that we were heading toward serious problems after we opened. But the new DIA was so successful in terms of establishing itself in the minds of the public as their museum that it enabled us to go for this millage. So to me, this is the kind of success you hardly dare think of having.”
While the campaign was a long, hard fight, Beal said, it came down to a typical politics 101 lesson.
“In the end, our volunteers really were our strength,” he said. “We had tens of thousands of people who were willing to put in time and effort. Whatever we did strategically and tactically, in the end, this is a get-out-the-vote campaign and we got out the vote.”