The DIA's fortunes weren't always so grim.

Located in a white marble jewel box of a building, the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts is beloved. The collection, started in 1885 and moved to its present home in 1927, contains gems by some of history’s greatest artists, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Degas. This stuff is worth a lot of money.

Which is why, over the last couple of years, there’s been talk about selling off parts of the collection to help pay off some of Detroit’s staggering debt. The city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July, citing debts of $18.5 billion. A judge recently ruled that the bankruptcy can go forward, although appeals are pending.

The auction house Christie’s is in the midst of valuing the city’s 2,800-piece art collection, and will shortly be delivering its report on how to leverage the cultural asset to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Preliminary estimates of the artworks’ value range between $452 million and $866 million. Private donors are trying to raise $500 million to help keep the art in city hands, and Orr has indicated he’s open to the idea.

Things haven’t always been so grim, of course. Back in 1976, this commercial promoting the DIA was in heavy rotation on local television. (It was recently posted to the Facebook page of HistoricDetroit.org.) Delightfully cheesy, it showcases some of the museum’s most valuable holdings to the accompaniment of a jingle that will bring back memories for anyone who lived in the city back then:

“You gotta have art! All you really need is art! When those little things in life make you frown, come on down and get a start – first you gotta have art!”

Does Detroit still gotta have art? The next few months will likely provide an answer.

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