Toby Barlow: Sell Banks' Paintings, Not the DIA's, To Help Detroit

Detroit author and adman Toby Barlow has an innovative, offbeat suggestion for emergency manager Kevyn Orr as he hunts for ways to shrink Detroit's debt :

Ask the banks to pay back the banks. Maybe not all of the debt, but they could cover a good chunk of it and without even having to write a check.

Toby Barlow, though easily amused, is cold-stone serious in his new essay.
[Photo from Facebook]

How they'd do that involves valuable artwork -- not the DIA's -- and out-there creative thinking, as befits the chief creative officer of Team Detroit, a Dearborn agency. Barlow lays out his brainstorm at an essays site called The Weeklings.

The art collections of the world’s banks are truly phenomenal. . . .  

The emergency financial manager, or perhaps the state attorney general, should ask these banks for their art. Not all of it; only enough to cover the damages of their foreclosure walkaways -- both the taxes they haven’t paid on those homes and the depreciation they’ve caused on all the surrounding property.

The Detroit Institute of Art could host an auction and sell these “donated” works off. We’re not greedy, we don’t want much, we’ll only take what we need to get by.

I’m betting we could do a lot of good with a couple hundred works of art. Most of these banks would probably not even notice the art was gone, if they even noticed it was there in the first place.

While acknowledging his fanciful "pipe dream" is just that, Barlow supports it with an elegant case statement, in the jargon of his marketing field.

Over the past decade, the banks have evicted many, many people in Detroit from their homes. . . .

After these evictions occurred, the banks did not foreclose the homes. They simply let the houses rot.

In other words, as opposed to following the due diligence of a functioning system --  wherein these banks would have gone through the legal process of actually foreclosing the home, earning back the home’s title, and then paying the taxes on the property until the property was sold to a new owner -- they did nothing. They simply walked away.

So, for starters, they owe taxes on those homes. Not just a few homes; thousands of homes. That’s lot of taxes. When you’re done adding everything that’s owed, it’s probably worth more than a few Chagalls.

Then there’s this: By letting those homes rot, these banks caused the depreciation of all the other homes in all those neighborhoods, block after block, along nearly every avenue, street and boulevard. Each one of these abandoned homes pulls the value of all those other buildings down.

In a clear-eyed reality check, though, the former executive creative director at the Detroit office of the global JTW ad agency says Orr "is probably not seeking any truly creative solutions."

He will be forced to speak in the language of the bond traders, who speak in the language of the bankers, who sit in their offices surrounded by all the works of art their profits have paid for, wondering how it was Detroit got itself into this mess in the first place.    

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