Discovering the Detroit Institute of Arts

If you haven’t visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, then you’re missing a real treat. This 130-year-old museum in the heart of Midtown has something of interest for everyone who visits. I had the pleasure of talking with some knowledgeable museum volunteers on my recent visit.

armor“Art is for everyone, despite their background,” said Anne Olender, who has worked at the DIA for 11 years. “If you have a particular artistic interest, you can easily find it here!”

“Some people don’t know about the interactive elements to our exhibits that show you how art was created,” Olender said. “The trivia [signs] and the Eye Spy game allow kids to wander through the museum, find clue cards and learn about art history.”

The museum collections boast more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from classic to cutting-edge pieces. Galleries include Modern Art, Ancient Greek and Roman Art, Egyptian Art, Prints and Drawings, and the Era of Revolution. The museum also features a 1,100-seat auditorium that showcases weekly documentaries, foreign movies and classic films.


One of the most popular sections of the DIA is Rivera Court, which boasts a 27-panel mural called “Detroit Industry” by artist Diego Rivera. The mural, which was created over 11 months and completed in 1933, is called one of Rivera’s best works. It depicts the culture of Detroit’s auto manufacturing and technology industry.

“Most visitors like to start in Rivera Court because there’s a lot to see,” said Barb Hoffman, who is one of more than 700 volunteers working at the DIA. “I love the murals because of the breadth of it, and I always find something new in it.”

Another popular attraction is the “Art of Dining” display in the Fashionable Living Collection, which immerses visitors in a video projection of an 18th-century European banquet table being set by the servants of a wealthy family. The video features period plates, silverware, serving bowls and food served for a typical three-course meal.


“This video gives visitors a window into how high-class people lived in the 1700s,” said Olender, who also pointed out the popular self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh in the Modern Art Collection.

“Quilting Time” is a colorful mosaic of glass tiles that was commissioned by artist Romare Bearden to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the DIA. The large, vivid mosaic highlights the quilting skills of a traditional African-American community in the south.

Learn more about Detroit’s rich history by visiting the General Motors Center for African American Art. This exhibit depicts African-American contributions to the art community, while exploring American history and society from an African-American perspective.

The DIA, which is open every day except Monday, also offers art-making and storytelling workshops, audio tours, book discussions, special exhibitions, lecture series and more. It stays open until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays for Friday Night Live, which features live music and special programs for visitors. Family Sundays feature puppet performances, artist demonstrations and the chance to make your own art in one of the galleries.


“I tell visitors not to hesitate to ask our volunteers questions,” said Loretta Gates, who has volunteered there for 16 years. “Be sure to grab a map because some people have trouble navigating the building –which is actually a piece of art, too.”

Later this summer, a special exhibition of more than 70 photographs of the city of Detroit, taken by photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber, will be on display. A new Diego Rivera exhibit is coming to the museum in early 2015.

Museum admission is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. To learn more before your visit to the DIA, visit Share your favorite thing about visiting the museum below.

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