Art assets: Could Detroit museum's collection be sold to cover city debts?

Could the Detroit Institute of Arts’ billion dollar collection, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse, be headed for the auction block to satisfy creditors of the financially troubled city?

Bill Nowling, a spokesman for state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, told MyFOX Detroit, Orr is considering whether the collection should be considered city assets that could be sold to cover Detroit's long-term debt, estimated at more than $14 billion.

"As Kevyn Orr has said many times, he is considering many different options to help rectify Detroit's fiscal crisis," Nowling said. "What I can say is that there is no formal plan on the table to sell any Detroit asset, the DIA or otherwise.”

Museum officials oppose the idea of a fire sale and say they have hired a bankruptcy attorney to suggest ways to protect the collection from possible losses. In a statement, the DIA said it and the city “hold the museum's art collection in trust for the public" and that "the city cannot sell art to generate funds for any purpose other than to enhance the collection."

According to Crain's Detroit Business, a city report from 2004, when the DIA was still a city department, valued the art collection at more than $1 billion.

The city owns the Detroit Institute of Arts' building and collection, while daily operations are overseen by a nonprofit.

The scope of Orr's power to sell the collection or any other major assets, such as the city's water department, likely would be tested in court.

"I am not shocked by anything that occurs in this city lately," Annmarie Erickson, Executive Vice President at the DIA, told MyFOX Detroit. "I think all of us are a little battle worn over what has been happening in the city of Detroit."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr as emergency manager in March, giving him the final say on Detroit's fiscal matters. The city's budget deficit could reach $380 million by July 1, and it could run out of cash before the end of the year.  Filing for bankruptcy hasn't been ruled out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.