The Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts could fall into the hands of private collectors now that the Michigan city has entered bankruptcy, according to art expert Gregorio Luke.

"We in artistic circles all over the hemisphere are concerned about the fate of the 12 Diego Rivera murals in Detroit," Luke told Efe.

The institute's $2 billion collection also includes works by artists such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Picasso.

Detroit last week requested bankruptcy protection when it was not able to pay its debt of some $18.5 billion.

While most public museums are operated by non-profit corporations, the Detroit Institute of Arts and its collection belong to the municipality.

"Art in Detroit was accessible to the public at the Institute of Arts Museum, but today, with the city in bankruptcy, all its possessions, which include the Institute building and the works it contains, which are authentic jewels, are subject to the claims of the creditors," Luke said.

Among "those very valuable gems" are 12 murals that auto magnate Henry Ford in 1932 commissioned Mexican painter Diego Rivera to create.

"The murals are inspired by the city's industries and that includes the automobile (industry). They are a dozen murals that are Diego Rivera's greatest work in the United States," Luke said.

Luke emphasized that in contrast to traditional works that get their inspiration from aristocracies or economic elites, the Mexican artist painted factory workers.

"Diego Rivera said that the greatest satisfaction he had in Detroit was seeing the expressions on the faces of the workers when they came in to see the murals, that they reacted as if they were before a big mirror," Luke emphasized.

Luke issued a call to the Hispanic community to write letters to their congressmen, to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and to President Barack Obama to intervene to protect Rivera's murals "for being a cultural bridge between Mexico and the United States."

Pamela Marcil, a spokesperson for the Detroit Institute of Arts, told Efe the museum would fight in court against any attempt to sell off its collection to pay creditors. EFE