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Saturday, 17 November, 2007 4:19 PM

The New DIA Opens on Nov. 23 after a $158 million renovation


DIA Media Preview Day on Nov. 10th. Pictured (from left to right) are Michael Graves, architect of the building renovations; Graham W. J. Beal, DIA Director; Eugene A. Gargaro Jr., Chairman of the Board; David W. Penney, Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Strategies.

by Jason Rzucidlo

WATCH: DIA Director Graham W.J. Beal speaks about recent transformations at the museum (MPEG Video)

After being closed for the entire summer, The New Detroit Institute of Arts will open its doors on Nov. 23. The museum will remain open for 32 hours in a row until Nov. 24 at 6 p.m. offering FREE admission to everyone. Renovations were made to the building over the last six and a half years and will all be shown off on the day after Thanksgiving.

An Arts Alive! fundraising gala took place on Saturday, Nov. 10 and it drew over 2,000 people. Attendees who paid anywhere from $200 to $600 for the event were the first to see the recent transformations at The New DIA. International, national and local entertainment was also provided. The media got its first look at The New DIA on Monday, Nov. 12. DIA Director Graham W.J. Beal spoke to the media at a press conference and tours were provided following his remarks.

"The gala sold out two weeks before the event," said Pamela Marcil, public relations manager at the DIA. "It's everybody's museum. This is a good time to come up."

The public is invited to see The New DIA for the first time next Friday. The art museum will be open for 32 consecutive hours with FREE admission for all. There will be LIVE jazz music in the American galleries, griots and dancers in the African galleries and a basket weaver in the Native American galleries.

"This is a day that we have been waiting for a long time and we are ready to celebrate," said Beal. "I invite the public to come and experience a beautiful new DIA with galleries designed to better engage them with one of the nation's finest art collections."

The renovation project kicked off in 2001. Six and half years and $158 million later, the DIA offers more gallery space, more visitor amenities, an improved traffic pattern and a new granite facade on the North and South wings of the building. Improvements were also made to the electrical, temperature and humidity systems. After the renovations were completed, an extra 58,000 square feet of exhibit space was added. The South Wing accounts for 31,383 square feet of that total.

During the renovation process, all the galleries have to be emptied. When construction was completed, the team at the DIA had the chance to think about how they wanted to reinstall the art collection. Instead of the just putting it back how it was, the team at the DIA arranged the art according to the stories the objects have to tell. Galleries have themes such as spirituality, travel and the cycles of life. In the past, art collections were organized based on their time period or style.

"We decided that we needed to get back to the original human purpose of the works of art," the DIA director said. "As you go through the galleries now, you will see that the works of art are presented through themes that relate these works of art to shared human experiences. Very basic things like getting dressed, drinking, eating, worshipping."

"Although we're breaking with decades of practice, in a way where Valentiner implicity contextualized things, we now are explicitly contextualizing things. In what we are doing here, we are both leading and we're ahead of the pack."

Some examples of the new way the DIA organized its art collections:

  • Art and the Cycle of Life: objects from African cultures are displayed to show the milestones of life: birth, adolescence, marriage and death.
  • Grand Tour of Italy: Paintings and sculptures from Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome are similar to those a "grand tourist" would have seen and purchased.
  • Images of Spiritual Power: Native American objects are carved with faces and forms of humans and animals to evoke the power of spirit beings.
  • The Dutch Golden Age: The works of Rembrandt and his contemporaries are displayed around six stories that convey the themes of faith and industry central to the 17th century Dutch society and culture.

The New DIA includes many new uses of modern-day technology. Instead of just displaying art, you will be able to experience it at the DIA. Check out the "virtual" dining experience in 18th century Europe or dance with a life-size video of an African ceremony. Digital books were added to the museum. You are invited to touch the screen to turn the page and read them at your own pace. In addition, visitors can use a handheld computer to take a multimedia tour of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals.

You won't want to miss the "Art of Dining" 18th century European banquet experience. It is a 5-minute program that shows how European aristocrats would set their table during a meal. The experience was designed by Pentagram, a New York design firm.

"The idea is to have people come in with their experiences," said DIA Associate Educator Swarupa Anila. "We want people to come in and decide for themselves. We have the interpretation right in the gallery. In the DIA, we tried to incorporate it with the works of art. It took months to develop."

Those are not the only changes to the DIA. New labels were added to all the exhibits within the DIA. In the past, some labels were confusing to visitors of the museum. All the labels next to the art pieces were re-done in plain English. A new Cafe DIA was added with seating for 250 people. More seating is available in the galleries throughout the museum. A larger museum shop is available to visitors of the museum, nearly double the size of the old one. A new visitor information desk was added just outside the museum shop.

"The labels are much more direct," Marcil said. "Check out the digital books and greatly expanded museum shop."

At some museums, they tell you not to touch the items in the exhibit. In the Dutch and African collections at the DIA, kids are encouraged to touch. They may touch ivory and glass beads in the African gallery. They can also touch the Velcro board and create their town still-life compositions in the Dutch gallery. In 50 different galleries at the DIA, children will find "Eye Spy" panels that will give a clue about a work of art in that gallery. They are encouraged to find the piece of artwork that matches the clue and life the cover to see the correct answer.

The Detroit Institute of Arts' auditorium, also known as The Detroit Film Theatre, was also renovated. The theatre, which opened in 1927, got a fresh coat of paint, more seats and updated sound and lighting systems. All 1,117 original seats were refurbished. The original wood backs and armrests were restored.

The Farnsworth Street lobby has been remodeled from the ground up. Informational signs will let visitors know what's going on for that particular day. The box office is also located in that lobby. Additional ticket windows are outside for people who want to walk-up and get their tickets.

The DIA launched its "Great Art New Start" campaign in Sept. 2006 with a goal of raising $180 million. Up to this point, an astounding $100 million was raised. The funds were used to complete the renovation, expansion and reinstallation of the collection. Donations were made by individuals, corporations and foundations across metro Detroit.

The New DIA Opens on November 23. You won't want to miss it. The changes this museum has made are amazing. Bring your friends and family to experience one of the best art museums in the nation. The collections are organized in a brand-new way that you won't find in any other museum. The new technology has made the DIA more modern and unique.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit, MI. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or visit The DIA is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. It's also open on Fridays from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Suggested admission is $8 for adults; $6 for seniors; $5 for kids aged 6-17; FREE for children under five and members of the museum.


DIA Director Graham W.J. Beal speaks to the media.



DIA Chairman Eugene A. Gargaro Jr. highlights recent transformations at the museum.



David W. Penney, DIA Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Strategies.



Michael Graves, chief architect for the master plan of the building renovations.



Beal takes questions from the media following the press conference.


Take an exclusive inside look at The NEW DIA...

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Copyright © 2007 All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer and Privacy Policy.