On August 7, 2012, voters in the Michigan counties of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb narrowly approved a ten-year millage increase to support the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA), providing the needy institution with a steady supply of tax dollars and ensuring its survival.
The property tax—a 0.2 mil levy—amounts to about $20 annually for a home with a market value of $200,000 and a taxable value of $100,000, the Detroit Free Press reported. The trade-off? Residents of the three counties were promised unlimited free admission and other benefits. The day after the vote, the DIA instituted free admission to county residents. Free general admission, however, does not mean free admission to all the DIA exhibits, as five residents of Macomb County found out.
On December 1, the five were denied entry to the timed and ticketed exhibition, Fabergé: The Rise and Fall, which features 200 objects from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. There was an admission charge of $15 to see the special Fabergé exhibition.
The five, working with lawyer Shyler Engel, have filed a lawsuit, claiming breach of contract.
“Throughout the millage campaign, the DIA was clear that free admission would not apply to all DIA activities and that visitors would still need to purchase tickets to programs such as Brunch with Bach, films at the Detroit Film Theater and special exhibitions such as the highly popular Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus that was on display a year ago,” a statement from the DIA read.
Even with extra fees to visit special exhibitions, the millage is a great deal for the taxpayers with benefits that outweigh the costs. The unlimited free general admission alone is worth the tax—regular adult admission is $8—but the agreement also included student curriculum development, professional development for teachers, expanded senior programs, and DIA collaboration with local arts organizations. That’s plenty of bang for the buck.
The people of the three counties stepped up to help save a vital cultural institution in a city once called the Paris of the West. Instead of paying a lawyer, the aggrieved residents might have paid the $15 entrance fee to the Fabergé exhibit; it would have been cheaper and far more enriching.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest