The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 10, 2012

Reflections on the Detroit Institute of Arts

Posted by jschmall

In light of the recent passage of a millage to raise funds for the cash-strapped Detroit Institute of Arts (a Knight Arts grantee), I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what the DIA meant to me when I was considering moving to Detroit from New York. Although it’s not quite accurate to say that the DIA is the reason I decided to make the move, it was absolutely the clincher. Having grown up in Ohio and having eventually made my way to New York, I was certain I would never move back to the Midwest, fearing I would be moving away from the vibrant arts culture I found so invigorating on the East Coast. However, after six years in New York, I found the lifestyle wearing on me and felt I needed a change of pace. I made a list of cities I was considering moving to, including Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago, Austin, Asheville, New Orleans and Detroit (as well as a dozen others). I kept crossing cities off the list as I researched them and decided I wasn’t interested in them, but the only city I could not seem to cross off was Detroit. So I called up a longtime friend who’d moved to Detroit a few years back and made plans to visit her.

The DIA says thanks. Image courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

As soon I got to the city, I was immediately fascinated by it. I could feel the heart and soul and rich history resonating throughout every street, every building and each person I encountered. Still, I was having a hard time making a decision to leave New York, a city I had come to believe was the epicenter of the arts world. But a visit to the DIA changed everything. The gorgeous building itself was almost enough — then I went inside. I remember wandering into the Diego Courtyard and feeling overwhelmed by the masterful work on display, imagining Frida Kahlo watching her husband work on the mural titled “Detroit Industry” 80 years ago. I was floored by the contemporary arts section, which rivals that of any museum I’ve visited in my life, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. In particular, the William Kentridge piece, “What will Come” astounded and delighted me. I spent the better part of an afternoon wandering the halls of the DIA, giddy and overcome with delight, and I left with a new appreciation for the city — a place full of surprises far beyond what I’d imagined, including a world-class art museum. It was then that I became convinced that I could happily call Detroit my home.

Since moving here, I have visited the DIA many times — to view the work on display, listen to live music and to take in a movie — and have enjoyed every visit. On a very personal note, I couldn’t be more pleased that such an exceptional institution has such broad support, and that the future of the DIA is sunny and secure.

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