Notice

For visitors to Van Gogh in America, operation hours are extended until 5 p.m. Tues-Thurs and 6 p.m. Sat-Sun.

Director’s Letter, March 2016

Updated Jul 20, 2022

From the Director

People always ask me why I came to work at the DIA. My first answer has typically been the amazing art collection and the extraordinary history of the museum. Although this is a truthful answer, I now realize that I should clarify what I meant by the "amazing art collection" was that of European art, my area of expertise as a curator and scholar.

Since working at the DIA, I have learned that the museum is so much more than the European art collection, and each day walking through the galleries I can discover new, astonishing art previously unfamiliar to me. Confronting ourselves with the vastness of what we do not know is both a humbling realization and an exciting opportunity for learning and connecting with other cultures and peoples. Recently I have embraced African American art as my new focus of interest. Our last exhibition, 30 Americans, was an eye opener for me, and it encouraged me to look at our contemporary African American collection with renewed attention. I try not to miss an opportunity to meet African American artists in Detroit and elsewhere, to see and read about their exhibitions, and follow the events organized by our DIA auxiliary group, the Friends of African and African American Art (FAAAA).

Last month, FAAAA and the DIA celebrated the twenty-fourth annual Alain Locke Awards, and I attended the lecture by the award honoree, Jeffrey C. Stewart (https://jeffreyconradstewart.wordpress.com/about/(opens in new window)). As an expert on the seminal work of Locke (http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/02/alain_locke_father_of_th...(opens in new window)), Stewart spoke with eloquence and passion about the Harlem Renaissance and Locke's contributions to the development of African American culture and the understanding of its art at the beginning of the twentieth century. His presentation was most inspiring, reminding us how people can transform places and how art plays a dynamic role in community building. Furthermore, the artistic talent that resides in our own city needs to be encouraged and tapped to revitalize our own neighborhoods and our own people.

Stewart's specific elaboration on Locke's concept of "crucible" as applied to Harlem's racial and professional structure of the early part of the last century was what most attracted me. A crucible is a pot in which, through a heating process, different metals melt and change. So Harlem was a crucible where the interactive forces of diverse social and racial structure brought extraordinary change through the creative platform of the arts: music, dance, sculpture, painting, poetry, and the like. What an inspiring image! Can Detroit and its people also be a crucible, a melting pot of creativity and diversity in the twenty-first century? And in this context, can the DIA be the agent that facilitates the artistic Renaissance of our community? Locke would expect no less from us.

As sounds and ideas of Stewart's lecture crackle in my mind like wood burning in a fire, I think about the dynamics of art and community, its power to make a place come alive, and the responsibility of the DIA to engage in and enable that environment. The European collection brought me to Detroit, but the DIA and our community, taken together, have opened new horizons in my understanding of the arts. I am happily reminded of this each day when I arrive at the DIA and see the late Detroit artist Gilda Snowden's powerful painting Twin Tornados (http://www.dia.org/object-info/5802ced8-1d74-43f1-845e-beaad10095f6.aspx...(opens in new window)) "presiding" in my office.

People always ask me why I came to work at the DIA. My first answer has typically been the amazing art collection and the extraordinary history of the museum. Although this is a truthful answer, I now realize that I should clarify what I meant by the "amazing art collection" was that of European art, my area of expertise as a curator and scholar.

Since working at the DIA, I have learned that the museum is so much more than the European art collection, and each day walking through the galleries I can discover new, astonishing art previously unfamiliar to me. Confronting ourselves with the vastness of what we do not know is both a humbling realization and an exciting opportunity for learning and connecting with other cultures and peoples. Recently I have embraced African American art as my new focus of interest. Our last exhibition, 30 Americans, was an eye opener for me, and it encouraged me to look at our contemporary African American collection with renewed attention. I try not to miss an opportunity to meet African American artists in Detroit and elsewhere, to see and read about their exhibitions, and follow the events organized by our DIA auxiliary group, the Friends of African and African American Art (FAAAA).

Last month, FAAAA and the DIA celebrated the twenty-fourth annual Alain Locke Awards, and I attended the lecture by the award honoree, Jeffrey C. Stewart (https://jeffreyconradstewart.wordpress.com/about/(opens in new window)). As an expert on the seminal work of Locke (http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/02/alain_locke_father_of_th...(opens in new window)), Stewart spoke with eloquence and passion about the Harlem Renaissance and Locke's contributions to the development of African American culture and the understanding of its art at the beginning of the twentieth century. His presentation was most inspiring, reminding us how people can transform places and how art plays a dynamic role in community building. Furthermore, the artistic talent that resides in our own city needs to be encouraged and tapped to revitalize our own neighborhoods and our own people.

Stewart's specific elaboration on Locke's concept of "crucible" as applied to Harlem's racial and professional structure of the early part of the last century was what most attracted me. A crucible is a pot in which, through a heating process, different metals melt and change. So Harlem was a crucible where the interactive forces of diverse social and racial structure brought extraordinary change through the creative platform of the arts: music, dance, sculpture, painting, poetry, and the like. What an inspiring image! Can Detroit and its people also be a crucible, a melting pot of creativity and diversity in the twenty-first century? And in this context, can the DIA be the agent that facilitates the artistic Renaissance of our community? Locke would expect no less from us.

As sounds and ideas of Stewart's lecture crackle in my mind like wood burning in a fire, I think about the dynamics of art and community, its power to make a place come alive, and the responsibility of the DIA to engage in and enable that environment. The European collection brought me to Detroit, but the DIA and our community, taken together, have opened new horizons in my understanding of the arts. I am happily reminded of this each day when I arrive at the DIA and see the late Detroit artist Gilda Snowden's powerful painting Twin Tornados (http://www.dia.org/object-info/5802ced8-1d74-43f1-845e-beaad10095f6.aspx...(opens in new window)) "presiding" in my office.