The Detroit Institute of Arts

Michigan's attorney general has asserted that the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection cannot be sold by the city to help pay off its massive debt. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Several treasured works of art at the Detroit Institute of Arts -- including an 1887 Van Gogh self-portrait and Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna and Child” -- are safe from being sold off for the time being.

Michigan’s Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette asserted his formal opinion that the museum’s art collection could not be sold by the city to help pay off its massive $15 billion to $17 billion in debt. The collection is held in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, the attorney general wrote.

Schuette noted the city’s serious financial situation in the 22 page report on Thursday; he also called the Detroit Institute of Arts an “encyclopedic museum with an expansive art collection.”

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Ultimately, he wrote: “The art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the city of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection can thus be sold, conveyed or transferred to satisfy City debts or obligations.”

The city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, is exploring plans for helping the city climb out of the red. His vision doesn’t include selling the DIA’s art per se, but he is looking closely at what, exactly, the city owns -- including the museum’s valuable works of art.

Whether or not the city is headed to bankruptcy court is still up in the air; Orr, who’s been in talks with the city’s creditors, has broached discussions that could eventually determine that.

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