It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you go to an art museum you will find many varieties of artwork. Some pieces of art almost seem to be photographs as they seem to accurately portray a scene. Others are quite abstract. We all have our preferences. I’m not that into abstract art. But just because I’m not as attracted to Picasso as is someone else, doesn’t mean that one or the other of us doesn’t appreciate good art. One could say something similar about music. One prefers Miles Davis, another Bach, and another Jayzee. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but life needs beauty to flourish.
In the first creation story (Genesis 1), God comments after each act of creation, pronouncing what God sees as good. God looks at creation and appreciates its beauty, its perfection, its grace. There is much in life that isn’t beautiful, but without something of beauty to catch our hearts we’re liable to fall into despair.
This brings me to the point of my post. Last week we heard that the Emergency Manager for Detroit put the Detroit Institute of Arts, better known simply as the DIA, on notice. In efforts to right the ship of Detroit, the city’s creditors could demand the sale of assets, including valuable pieces ofthe DIA’s collection. There has already been much debate on this matter. Some say that the art is sacrosanct and can’t be sacrificed, even though some of the art could fetch upwards of a $150 million (for just one piece). As an advocate for social justice I can understand the need to put the lives of people above art. But, I also know that if a city’s treasures, its sources of beauty and inspiration, are taken from it, it loses its heart and soul. A few bills might get paid, but at what cost to the life blood of a city?
Just over a year ago the suburbs of Detroit were asked to increase property taxes to support the DIA for a period of ten years. Majorities in each county said yes – and in exchange we get free access to the museum (paying only for special exhibits). Whether or not you’ve been to the museum (I have and it is a wonderful museum), it is a treasure, not only for the city but the region and the state. It is a destination, and because it is open to the entire local public without charge that means that it no longer is the domain of an elite. It is a place where all can enjoy the fruits and be inspired. Taking away the treasures, would take away a source of beauty that might inspire the children of Detroit and the surrounding areas to let their imaginations go free, so that they can experience the blessings of God’s gift of creativity.
I understand that things are difficult in Detroit. I have committed myself through the work of Motown Mission, Gospel in Action Detroit and Rippling Hope ministries to make a difference in the city. Part of my reason for being involved in the Metro Coalition of Congregations, which seeks to organize in the suburbs for social justice, is that I see this as a first step to a broader partnership for the good of the entire region. So, I’m not suggesting that we protect the DIA for the good of a wealthier elite living in the suburbs. No, I am advocating for the protection of the DIA for the good of us all, so that we as a region, rich and poor, might have the benefit of this gift of beauty that life might flourish among us.