Detroit, city of my birth and upbringing, has gone bankrupt. And the Detroit Institute of Arts, an inspirational beacon of my youth, is in trouble. It was recently reported that the worth of all the art in the museum was only about $2,000,000,000, and that they might have to start lugging it all to Antiques Roadshow. They’re also going to need donations. And I owe them a lot.

In my senior year of high school, I took the bus downtown every afternoon to intern in the museum’s photography department. I was a budding photographer, and they taught me everything: darkroom skills, cameras, lighting, studio basics. I helped with various tasks, and they were kind enough to let me develop and print my own work.  I collected many of those photos into a portfolio that landed me second place in the country in the Scholastic Arts Awards – and also helped me get a full ride to the art school at Cooper Union.

It’s hard to put a price tag on that kind of experience. Or on such an inspirational collection. But if you did have to value such things, St. Jerome in his Study, by Van Eyck, is one of the museum’s prized masterpieces. As they were photographing it in the studio one afternoon, I was even given the chance to carefully lift and move it. It was certainly the most valuable thing I’ve ever held in my hands – worth many millions of dollars. And it only measures about twelve by nine inches. Framed.

Just small enough to fit in a high school kid’s backpack.


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