Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette last week issued a 22-page formal opinion arguing that the Detroit Institute of Art's prized collection is off limits to creditors or Detroit officials struggling to cover the city's debt, because it is held in a charitable trust.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr recently warned that the collection, valued at over $1 billion, could be seized by the city or its creditors to pay off debts. The city owns the museum.

Schuette's opinion says the art cannot be sold or transferred for purposes of satisfying debt or obligations of the city because it is governed by the law of charitable trusts.

"It is my opinion … that 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 may thus be sold, conveyed or transferred to satisfy city debts or obligations," the opinion says. "In issuing this opinion, I recognize the serious financial hardships that face the city, the difficulties that the people who live and work in the city have endured for decades, and the many challenges facing the citizens of the city of Detroit and the state in the future," he said. "In Michigan, we not only appreciate our cultural treasures, we guard them zealously in charitable trust for all state residents, present and future."

Sen. Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, asked for Schuette's opinion after sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal to use the art as collateral or to sell it for any other reason besides buying new art. The Senate approved the legislation last week, and it will now go to the House.

Founded in 1885, the DIA's collection spans 60,000 pieces. Works include one of the original casts of Rodin's The Thinker, as well as pieces by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Picasso, and Van Gogh. It also houses Diego Rivera's mural "Detroit Industry."

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