Fall Fun: Detroit Institute of Arts Reopens with Safety Measures in Place

Art Museum
Stock photo courtesy of Una Laurencic.

An Afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts is Hassle-free and Life Affirming.

As I drive into Detroit’s Cultural District, my heartbeat quickens. A few years ago I made this commute from the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor area to downtown three times per week. Employed by the Wayne State University’s Magee Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance, I would arrive early in the morning to teach class or lecture, and stay all day. Frequently I would commute on the weekends as well, either to perform, coach students, and/or attend performances at such classic venues as the Detroit Opera House or the Music Hall.

As a city dweller for over a decade, it’s hard to describe the feeling of joy and satisfaction I get just from entering Detroit’s city limits. Watching steam billow up from the roadworks covers in the street always imparts a happy feeling. A bustling city scene in the heart of morning commute gives me a satisfied feeling of being in the right place at an opportune time.

Whether you love or hate a frequent commute, many of us are no longer engaged in that activity. And let’s face it — COVID-19 has forced many folks to reduce our carbon footprint, as we work remotely and lessen day-trips and social gathering. 

Even the brass sculpture of a donkey, much beloved and petted by children, dons a mask. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.
Even the brass sculpture of a donkey, much beloved and petted by children, dons a mask. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.

While the City and Museum district is not quite as busy and bustling as it used to be, museums such as the DIA and Detroit History Museum are open and have adopted safe and appropriate social distancing measures. Other respected institutions, such as the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, are also pushing forward with reopening. It is an exciting time to build up your arts and cultural knowledge, drink in the collections and curated exhibits, and get started with enjoying life again safely. It’s also a wonderful time to become a donor, member, friend, and supporter of the DIA.

Michale Hill, Community Partnership Programming Coordinator. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.
Michale Hill, Community Partnership Programming Coordinator. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.

Detroit is quiet and sunny on the afternoon of our visit. While the DIA opened galleries in mid-July, according to Community Partnership Programming Coordinator Michael Hill, “the best part (of the Autumn Reopening) is welcoming more visitors back into the galleries.” Mr. Hill and I had occasion to chat just before we were departing onto Woodward after viewing “Guests of Honor Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali.” 

Currently, visitors are able to purchase or reserve timed tickets for entry, enter on one side of the building and exit on the other, and are asked to maintain six feet of distance at all times. While we certainly encountered other visitors and staff, the feel was roomy, a bit chilly, and every person we met respected the safety measures. The galleries are marked with foot traffic directions though, and no one made a break against traffic flow patterns, even to move with haste to a favored piece of art. 

One benefit of the reopening is that I haven’t been to the museum since November 2019, when I made a special quick trip just to view the Ofrenda Exhibit. How can that possibly be viewed as a benefit, you may be wondering? In my case, I have performed in the museum with the Detroit Dance City Festival, integrated the collection into my teaching at WSU, and spent a fair amount of time — but never quite enough — visiting my favorite pieces. However, with the break that COVID has required us to make, I entered with my two family members with fresh eyes. And my teenage daughter brought her own agenda of works of art she prioritized as “must sees.”

According to Wikipedia’s entry on the Institute:

the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts are generally encyclopedic and extensive, including ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian material, as well as a wide range of Islamic, African, and Asian art of all media

We began at the Arts of Africa gallery, which I had visited within the past few years. The “fresh-eyes advantage” however, made the generous and diverse pieces in these galleries truly sing. Encompassing sculpture, texts, jewelry, traditional costume, painting, fiber works, videos of cultural and religious performances, contemporary pieces, furniture, functional pottery, weapons, ritual regalia, and more, the mind swells with amazement when witnessing these incredible works of art. Somehow the “roomier” halls, necessitated by social distancing allowed this visitor to truly relax into a time of peaceful and thoughtful communion with these artworks.

The Arts of Africa exhibit entrance. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.
The Arts of Africa exhibit entrance. Image courtesy of Christina-Marie Sears.

While group tours, including school field trips, will not be available at least until January 2021, according to Group Reservations Coordinator and Supervisor Shannon Bawulski, virtual resources are being developed and will be available later this fall. A highlighted collection of Learning Resources are currently being developed for the K-12 set. Additionally, “Art kits will be available for teachers to (rent) once school is back in session.” Ms. Bawulski notes that even while “virtual materials aren’t the same as walking through the museum and being in the presence of great works of art,” there is an upside, in that more visitors can be accommodated with virtual programming.  For example, Ms. Bawulski explained during a recent phone conversation that  “the ultra-popular ‘Spanish-Speaking Art World Tour’ is currently being adapted for virtual delivery.”

Other highlights of our visit included the Islamic Art Gallery, and the Budhist and Korean galleries. The Islamic pieces are so skillfully interpreted through contemporary and engaging didactics, photographs and inviting and thoughtful displays. In particular, this didactic poster entitled “Objects Traveled the Mediterreanean Sea” informed our engagement with the small functional artworks, crafted with glass, metal and ceramics. “For centuries- (between 1250-1500) these items likely traveled in trade ships on the Mediterranean Sea. Metalwork for Egypt and ceramics and silk textiles from Spain were traded widely in the Mediterranean region… As a result, artists were inspired by items that came from afar. Artists in Egypt and Syria created the glass and metalwork you see here. Glass blowers in Italy were inspired by the glass, which they imitated. And, potters in Spain took inspiration from the metalwork, creating ceramics such as those on view.” (Excerpt from Didactic Poster, Detroit Institute of the Arts)

Apparently, imitation is a form of giving a compliment in the visual and decorative art worlds! Learning about this form of artistic dialogue during our visit was fascinating. I found examining the sacred texts to be especially riveting.

Fall is a wonderful time to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. Every aspect of our afternoon was sublime. Plan your visit, scoop up the family or a friend or two, and drink in the art safely.