Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

Saving Detroit’s Art Treasures – While the Rest of the City is Picked Clean

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Rather than make common cause with the victims, whose house is being pillaged, the patrons of the ‘high arts’ want only to remove certain items.”

Elements of Michigan’s upper class are finally showing concern for the plight of Detroit, its largest city, locked in the deadly embrace of a state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager. No, the one percent aren’t upset that the city’s residents have been stripped of their democratic rights, reduced to non-citizens with literally no control over their local institutions and resources. Most of the upper crust consider the disenfranchisement of Detroit and fully half of the state’s Black population to be more of a blessing than a tragedy, much less a crime. Rather, the Emergency Manager has rattled the sophisticated gentry by appearing to covet the precious works housed in the Detroit Institute of Art, which could be valued at a billion dollars.

Wait a minute, say the high-priced art aficionados. Selling off the nuts and bolts assets of a great metropolis full of Black and poor people is one thing, but don’t you dare go after our van Gogh. You can steal the pensions of tens of thousands of retirees, and tear up every union contract in Detroit, but don’t even think about taking away my Monet!

It doesn’t matter to the privileged classes that the soulful city that produced the Motown sound – an exquisite form of art – is about to be gutted to satisfy the greed of capitalist creditors. After all, the Motown sound was produced by people from the streets, while the works of Picasso and Matisse are prized by the folks from the suites, and must be saved for future generations of that class. The very idea that masterpieces of Euro-American high culture might be thrown into the mix of expendable items like public water systems, voting rights, a living wage, and security in ones old age – why, its enough to make a connoisseur of the arts launch a revolt against the rule of Capital.

Sell the people, and their rights, but not the paintings!”

Well, not quite. Patrons of the arts have mobilized, not to free Detroit from the bankers’ yoke, but to find ways to separate the city’s artistic assets from the kind of assets that most people depend upon in their daily lives. Rather than demanding that Financial Manager Kevyn Orr and his vultures respect the citizenship rights of 82 percent Black Detroit, they’re seeking legal loopholes to keep the Institute of Art off the auction block. By all means, sell the people, and their rights, but not the paintings!

Of course, this is a false choice. A crime is being perpetuated against the people of Detroit, robbing them of the their rights as workers, pension holders, students, citizens and human beings. Rather than make common cause with the victims, whose house is being pillaged, the patrons of the “high arts” want only to remove certain items, and then run right out the door again, allowing the criminals to continue their thievery.

It probably does not even occur to the self-styled art lovers that, by attempting to separate the Institute of Art from the city of Detroit, they are also thieves. It is like slipping the wristwatch from the arm of a drowning man, rather than rescuing him, and then bragging about having preserved a fine piece of craftsmanship.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Direct download: 20130529_gf_Detroit.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:34am EDT