Detroit Institute of Arts levy winning, so far

Susan J. Demas

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) millage renewal appears to be on its way to passing, scoring large 2-to-1 vote margins in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, with less than 50% of precincts counted.

“While we are not ready to declare victory at this moment, the initial results from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties all appear extremely encouraging and signal widespread support for renewing the DIA millage,” Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “We are deeply appreciative to the voters and residents we serve in these three counties and plan to make an announcement later in the evening. But, right now, things are looking very good.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

DIA officials have continually said the .2 mill renewal isn’t “a new tax.” The renewal rate of .2 mills will cost $15 a year for a home valued at $150,000. All three county executives, Mark Hackel of Macomb County, Dave Coulter of Oakland County and Warren Evans of Wayne County publicly support the measure.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also backed the measure.

“The DIA is an education leader, providing free field trips and transportation to students across the city, which gives Detroit children access to rich and rewarding experiences that can’t be found elsewhere,” Duggan said last month. “Renewing the DIA millage is absolutely critical to ensuring children in our community continue to have access to this cultural gem, which is why I support the DIA and the millage renewal 100%.”

However, Leon Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner, has railed against the measure. He told the Advance on Tuesday that the DIA strategically chose to place the millage on a primary ballot as opposed to the November general election that generally has higher voter turnout.

“They knew that the vast majority of votes were going to be cast for a Democratic presidential candidate,”Drolet, who is also chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said. “So, they carefully identified their voters.”  

Pro-DIA millage sign in Detroit, March 9, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

In 2012, the tri-county area approved a 10-year millage for the DIA. In 2019, the levy provided the DIA with $25.2 million out of its $38 million operating budget. Now, the museum is seeking a ten-year renewal that would begin in 2022.

The DIA attracted other supporters, too. Operating Engineers 324 backed the measure.

“Operating Engineer 324 members are proud to work as Stationary Engineers at the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the premier public institutions in the United States dedicated to art and education,” said Douglas Stockwell, Operating Engineers 324 business manager. “Our members expertise helps keep priceless works of art safe from conditions like cold and humidity, and the museum a comfortable place for people from all over the world to visit.”

The DIA has said that the museum would use some of the proceeds to create an endowment of up to $400 million to keep the institution to become self-sufficient. Several benefits the millage contributes:

  •       Free unlimited general museum admission
  •       Discounted special exhibition tickets
  •       Free school field trips
  •       Expanded teacher professional development programs
  •       Expanded community partnerships
Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.