By Alan Madlane
Hamtramck residents have a real gem at their disposal, sitting there just minutes away.
In this place, one can see amazing and beautiful sights from around the globe, spanning centuries. Sights to fire the imagination or soothe the soul.
Sounds good, you say – but surely such a place must be terribly expensive to patronize?
Well, we’re talking, of course, about the Detroit Institute of Arts, or DIA. And best of all, as residents of the Detroit Metro Tri-County area (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb) — we’re also talking free.
That’s right, your tax dollars cover your basic admission to view one of the premier collections of art, not just in the country, but in the whole wide world.
You’ll still have to pony up a tiny bit for parking, and if you want to attend the rotating special exhibits that are always coming through, those would be extra. You can eat while there, and that of course costs.
But there’s plenty to see without paying anything extra over and above the parking. Heck, the very building itself is a wonder.
We sent some questions over to DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, who was not only kind in providing the following responses, but was shockingly prompt in so doing.
We hope you enjoy the following interview.
The Review: Could you provide our readership with a very, very brief capsule biography, just a couple sentences about your background before, and now with, the DIA?
Salvador Salort-Pons: I am an art historian, born and raised in Madrid, Spain.
I moved to Detroit in 2008 to work as a curator at the DIA, due to its amazing collection, and it was in this role where I first learned about the museum’s rich collection of African American art.
I became director in 2015, and continue to work to build new bridges between the museum and the residents of our region. I love to bring art and community together.
The Review: The DIA is considered by the art-savvy to house one of the finest collections anywhere in the world. What are a few of the exhibits or individual pieces that people should make sure they don’t miss from the permanent collection when they visit?
Salort-Pons: We were the first museum in the United States to purchase a work by Vincent Van Gogh (his Self-Portrait) which, among our other Van Gogh works, should not be missed.
We were also the first museum to have galleries devoted to African American art, and the heart of the museum is the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera.
The Review: What are some of the things going on between now and the end of the year at the Institute?
Salort-Pons: We have a very exciting fall planned at the museum. After 19 months, we are welcoming school field trip groups back to the museum.
On October 15, the Detroit Film Theatre will begin showing in-person films as well.
For exhibitions, we have a full and exciting slate for the rest of this year:
o Detroit Style, highlighting the art of Detroit car design, remains on view until Jan. 9, 2022.
o Ofrendas: Celebrating el Dia de Muertos exhibition is on view until Nov. 7, 2021.
o On October 8, Black Is Beautiful, the first major exhibition featuring the work of photographer Kwame Brathwaite, opens.
o New Black Vanguard, featuring vibrant and colorful photographs from 15 emerging black photographers, opens on December 17.
o An exhibition featuring the work of beloved Detroit artist Shirley Woodson opens December 18.
The Review: It’s still possible that some people living in the Wayne/Oakland/Macomb Tri-County area don’t realize that they are able to attend the DIA free.
However, some special exhibits or activities require an extra charge that isn’t covered. What exactly are these residents able to see, do, and enjoy for their “tax dollars at work”?
Salort-Pons: Museum admission is always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties.
In addition, the millage funds:
o Free bus transportation and free field trips for schools in the tri-counties. Prior to the pandemic, more than 90,000 students visited the museum each year on field trips, and we look forward to their return this month.
o Free programs for seniors, including Thursdays at the Museum, a weekly program that may consist of a tour, music program, or film. Due to the pandemic, it is currently being offered online, but we hope to soon return to our in-person programming that includes free bus transportation for senior groups, as well as a cookie and coffee reception.
o The DIA’s Inside|Out program, which brings high-quality replicas of DIA masterpieces into the community (including Hamtramck in 2016) and our Partners in Public Art program are the largest community partnership programs at the museum. We also partner with non-profit organizations in the tri-counties to support their programs and activities.
The Review: What are some of the non-art-related things that people may want to be aware of, or consider, when attending the museum? Parking, accommodations for the disabled, food options in and around the museum, etc.?
Salort-Pons: At this time museum admission is at a reduced capacity so advanced reservations are required. Tickets can be reserved online at dia.org or by phone at 313-833-7900. Admission is free to tri-county residents.
There is a parking lot for visitors on John R as well as ample metered street parking. The museum has multiple elevators allowing for access for those with disabilities, and we provide complimentary motorized scooters for those who need them.
At this time, food is only offered Kresge Court, but we hope to open our café soon.
The Review: Hamtramck is quite a multi-cultural mixing pot. How does your institute appeal to persons of various ethnicities or cultures?
Salort-Pons: The museum features extraordinary art from around the world, so there is something for everyone to identify with, and to learn from.
In addition to the galleries I mentioned earlier, we also have beautiful collections of African, Middle Eastern, American, European, and Native American Art, and Art of Asia and the Islamic World, among others.
The Review: What about children? What activities are there for them to enjoy, specifically?
Salort-Pons: We love to have families at the museum, and have several activities for kids!
Throughout the galleries, there are Eye-Spy interactives that kids can engage with to learn more about the art in the space. We also use an app called Goose Chase that can be downloaded, so kids can enjoy a self-guided scavenger hunt through the museum.
We hope to bring back art-making in the studio for families soon, but that is currently on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.
The Review: What is the annual budget for an institution the size of the DIA? How big is the staff? It might open a few eyes to hear some of those numbers.
Salort-Pons: The DIA’s annual budget is approximately $36 million. We have about 400 people on staff, in positions ranging from environmental services and accountants to imaging specialists and fund raisers.
The Review: What are the bigger picture plans for the DIA for 2022, the rest of the decade, and, dare we ask… beyond? What is the long view for the museum at this stage?
Salort-Pons: This year, we will begin the work with our staff, visitors and board to develop a new strategic plan for the DIA. A key component of that plan is our work with Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).
This work is integral to all that we do – from hiring new team members, to internal policies and procedures, exhibitions, acquisitions, and programs. We recently hired Carla Tinsley-Smith, as our new Director of IDEA, to coordinate this work, and to ensure that it governs all our decisions and activities at the museum.
We also are working on integrating digital offerings within our exhibitions, and programming to increase access to the museum and its collection.
The Review: Feel free to add anything I didn’t cover that you would like Hamtramckans to know.
Salort-Pons: We’re looking forward to opening an exciting exhibition next fall, Van Gogh in America. It will feature more than 70 works by Van Gogh from collections around the world, and tell the story of how Detroit led the way in bringing his art to the U.S.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit.
Posted Oct. 15, 2021