What's the point of a new museum in Detroit?

A year ago, when word got out about seemingly legitimate plans for a new contemporary art institution in Detroit, the buzz was big in the creative community. Many were skeptical from the first word — people here are skeptical about "new" anything.

But in the ensuing months, the e-mails arrived, followed up by press releases. There were a few stories in local papers, and then the Web site launched. Weeks ago, colorful stickers and posters came in the mail. It still seems hard to believe, unless you've recently seen the space that's to be the home of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit ( MOCAD) on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Garfield Street. You probably haven't noticed the unremarkable building, but it's been there since the 1930s, when it was an auto dealership. Located in Midtown, near the Cultural Center, the museum will be a short walk south from the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Public Library, Detroit Artists Market, and north from CPop Gallery and the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One day a couple of weeks ago, men installing heating ducts at the site looked down suspiciously from their perch on scaffolding. Asked whether the museum's temporary director, Marsha Miro, was milling around, one guy's response was, "If she's not a construction worker, I don't know her." But his hardhat was proof. He had a job to do, and so do the big-vision types like Miro and Mitch Cope, setting this enterprise in motion.

The museum's first major publicity campaign is branded by an arrow, but it might as well be a question mark. There are ambitious plans for their future, including idealistic conversations about artists meeting in the café at midnight. But can a new art museum in Detroit make it? Never mind that we're about 20 years behind the curve, that even such nonmajor cities as Ridgefield, Conn., and Cleveland have had great success with contemporary art museums — what could one do to our city and for our art scene? Will the museum spur development to make Midtown — with such a milquetoast name — a destination spot for hip out-of-towners as well as locals? And what about the art itself: Will it be edgy and engaging? Will it be controversial?

The biggest question is posed by an anonymous commentator on a Detroit arts blog: "Are we to believe that the museum is a panacea; a savior of our fledgling artistic community that will finally put Detroit on the map for contemporary art? I for one am skeptical."

And can all this happen in a city — and a region — that's reeling economically?

MOCAD's leaders, Miro and acting curator Mitch Cope, aren't focused on answering the big questions right now. They're just hoping that the doors will open. They're hoping that the two enormous glass doors arrive by Thursday, Oct. 26, the night of the museum's gala preview. They're also hoping that the six of the nine artists' installations will be, well, installed. And nobody seems quite sure when West Coast's Barry McGee (aka Twist) will show up to paint graffiti on the facade, as he's supposed to. Talk to anyone involved with MOCAD — those details are keeping them up at night.

The Stratford model

Getting MOCAD going is not the result of a public and private city partnership, as is commonly the case with new institutions. The group has formed from the ground up — nicely manicured lawns they may be — but with little more than a nod of support so far from the city.

"Our nation has a long-standing tradition of citizens spontaneously coming togther to accomplish things," says Jason Hall, director of government and media relations at the American Association of Museums, based in Washington, D.C. "There's no single model, but it's the people who think their community is the poorer without x, y or z, who usually pony-up the money. Not the government."

Often, the people who get the ball rolling are those who see a void to fill. In a recently published study for the Center of Arts and Public Policy at Wayne State University, David Magidson and the late Bernard L. Brock identify and explain a five-stage model for "The Arts and Cultural Process of Economic Development." They point to Stratford, Ontario, as a town that built itself up from nothing short of a sawmill and a gristmill, a courthouse and a jailhouse, to become a major theater community generating $170 million of revenue in ticket sales alone for an annual Shakespearean festival. In the research, the co-directors discovered the enterprise was founded by Stratford-born journalist Tom Patterson, back in the early 1950s.

The story of MOCAD also begins with a journalist. In 1995, arts critic Marsha Miro had just left her post at the Detroit Free Press. For years, she had been thinking about the one thing missing in this city: A creative hub, a site where artists could gather, whether poet, critic or musician.

"We also needed a place that anyone would feel comfortable walking into," Miro says. "I've always believed art is critical for everybody, not just the artists, the people who can afford to buy it or those initiated in the intellectual ramifications of it. Art adds so much to you as a human being. In this city, we need the healing qualities of creativity more than anything."

In 1995, Miro spoke with her longtime friend, gallery owner Susanne Hilberry, about the possibility of opening a contemporary museum. As a former modern and contemporary art curator at the DIA, and as someone who had owned her own gallery for 20 years, Hilberry agreed that Detroit needed a place that could help create and develop an audience for cutting-edge visual and performing arts.

In 1998, Miro was a member of the Friends of Modern Art, an auxiliary group of the DIA, so she brought the idea up to them. PS1 Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of New York's Museum of Modern Art, was working well as an alternative exhibition space, recognized for its fresh curatorial approach in showcasing new art practices. That was the model. The conversation was then brought to the DIA's management team and curators. Richard Manoogian, CEO of the multinational Masco Corp. and a major DIA patron, was chair of the museum's board of trustees. He seemed excited by the possibility of forming a contemporary center that would function as an off-site extension of the DIA.

The conversation lasted years. DIA Director Graham Beale, who joined the museum in 1999, embraced the project. "Beale and the board did all these studies and really thought it through carefully," Miro says. That year, the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation bought a building at 4454 Woodward Ave., a 22,000-square-foot former car dealership, with plans to develop it into a creative space.

"DIA staff developed several options for the project," Beale now says, "including a full-time operation run under the auspices of the DIA, a part-time DIA operation open only during exhibitions, and a collaborative operation involving another museum or educational institution." But the museum withdrew after voters rejected regional taxes to fund arts and culture in 2000 and 2002. "Those defeats, combined with continued, significant reductions in public funding, led the DIA and other local, cultural organizations to reassess programs and budgets," Beale says.

The DIA also began what is now a $158.2 million renovation and expansion.

After the DIA bowed out, according to Sharon Rothwell, vice president of Masco Corp, Manoogian Foundation pursued other options for the space. Miro says the foundation issued a challenge to get a board together, raise some money and offer proof that there was public interest.

Assessing community readiness, as Magidson and Brock point out, is a crucial first step in developing an institution that's to be an integral part of a city's cultural district. The second step is capturing and developing commitment. A year ago last May, Miro invited a focus group into the building and assembled a board of six people interested in helping to raise money. She also organized an event to gauge receptivity. A couple hundred people showed up, and, that night, at least four more people committed to being on the board.

"I went back to the foundation and said, 'We think there's interest and we want to give it a try,'" Miro says. After a few more meetings, Hilberry and Miro came up with a plan for an institution that would exhibit, but not collect, art and they would have a freelance curator organize the first show. The Manoogian Foundation rented the facility, but they do not contribute funding to the new institution. "The DIA is still the Manoogian Foundation's No. 1 priority," Rothwell says.

Black and white controversy

Art of the moment is a cause for concern. Either overtly or subtly sociopolictical, it provokes us by complicating matters, by being both funny and frustrating, unsettling and enlightening. It's the stuff you may not want to see, but are the better for seeing. Miro says it's messy, difficult, exciting, funny and challenging, and she believes MOCAD can handle it.

"Cranbrook Art Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts do an amazing job," she explains. "But Cranbrook's in the suburbs. And the DIA is organized to have framed art that hangs on the wall. You bring in really loud music and you have to worry about things crumbling. You have an artist who wants to throw paint on the floor or on the wall, and there's no place for it." That's part of what today's art is all about. It's not like modern art, which began with impressionism and ended with pop art in the late '60s. Contemporary art is not defined or limited by mediums. It's a mash-up.

MOCAD's home may not be much to look at — it was a generic commercial space even when it was new, back in the '30s. There are plans for substantial renovations two to four years down the road. MOCAD's architect Andrew Zago, who's been working with developers to get the building up to code, is now adding some modest design elements, such as new lighting, doors and windows, to alter that atmosphere. But he says, "Even in the long term, our goal is to keep the character of an industrial space." He points to Los Angeles' interim museum of contemporary art, a warehouse space subtly renovated by Frank Gehry in the early 1980s, called Temporary Contemporary. "It became more loved than the one that's there now." Paris' new Palais de Tokyo is another example of the kind of freedom offered by a bare-bones interior.

Klaus Kertess is the curator, writer and educator putting together MOCAD's first show, Meditations in an Emergency, titled after a Frank O'Hara poem. Kertess says, "Contemporary artists are responding to the problematic world we live in, whether it's global warming or the war in Iraq or racial tensions. It seems a darker moment now than it has been in a long time. That atmosphere was very much in my head for this show." As for the title, he explains, "The poem deals with O'Hara's personal emotions, his love life. I used it in a more public sense."

Meditations will feature works by Mark Bradford, Christopher Fachini, Barry McGee, Roxy Paine, Paul Pfeiffer, Jon Pylypchuk, Tabaimo, Kara Walker and Nari Ward. Except for Ward, this is the first time the curator has worked with the artists. It's also the first time many of them have exhibited here — except for Walker, who showed solo at University of Michigan in 2002 and was in a group show at Elaine L. Jacob Gallery back in 1999.

Last Kertess knew, Barry McGee was planning on painting a mural on the facade and installing a surrogate artist up on the exterior, a metal figure that's mechanized to move as if making the art itself. Paul Pfeiffer's an artist known for trading in media perceptions and images of fame. His new work for MOCAD features two screens displaying video footage: one of Michael Jackson in a press conference, denying all allegations of sexual contact with children, and another of 13 teenage Philippine boys chanting Michael Jackson's lyrics.

The young Japanese artist Tabaimo uses classic Japanese woodblock imagery in a contemporary way in short animations. Tabaimo's 15-minute work shows a figure from behind, covered with tattoos of butterflies and fish. As the piece progresses, the tattoos become animated and lift off her body. Jon Pylypchuk's art showcases grotesque animal figures in human activity. Kertess says, "It's fairly derelict." Pylypchuk usually builds houses for the figures with salvaged material. This time, he'll wait till he gets here to seek it out.

Mark Bradford will present two paintings, one made out of fragments of posters for athletic gear. His second piece is collaged on clear plastic, made with hairdressing papers used in black beauty parlors. Nari Ward's work has changed considerably in his mind since his first report, but he was incredibly influenced by the condition of MOCAD's building. The artist originally planned to create a beach "oasis," using some of the crumbled powder from the building's ceiling. But he's recently decided to perhaps incorporate a reference to a Detroit monument.

Roxy Paine is known for his computer-operated appliances that create automated drawings and paintings. For this show, he'll present a SCUMAK machine (short for "sculpture-making"), which was one of his first devices, originally produced in the late 1990s, that farts out plastic blobs over a period of several hours, playing on the time it would take to hand-make an original work of art.

Both Bradford and Ward play with racial clichés as black artists. But if anything provokes controversy in the first show, it's likely to be the work of Kara Walker, whose print entitled "A Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts" was once rejected from an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1999. Walker's paper cutouts appear as large silhouettes on the wall, depicting nightmarish scenes of slaves and masters, sex and violence on the plantations of the antebellum South. Her racially charged work has been criticized for victimizing women, but it's also sparked controversy because a largely white, male-dominated art scene has made this young African-American artist such a success. Now 37, she catapulted to fame by receiving the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award — the so-called "genius" grant — just three years after leaving grad school in 1997.

Walker's installations have made major stops at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis' Walker Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and has been shown internationally and featured on PBS. Her work shows up as scene-dressing in a photo spread in Readymade magazine, a hipster bible. For Detroit, she'll feature an animation film that's consciously grainy and homemade, with narration and subtitles, which deals with her traditional subject matter. It'll be interesting to see how Detroit, a city coping with the real and lasting effects of racism, will deal with Walker's designs.

The local tightrope

Kertess says he was seeking a moody soundscape for Meditations, but he didn't just want "music for the opening." He found something better in the work of Detroiter Christopher Fachini. Known around town as a former guitarist in Godzuki and the Dirtbombs, Fachini now plays with Odu Afrobeat Orchestra and the Transistors. For this show, he's playing a piece that's seven years in the making: featuring a late '60s-style reggae sound system, with instrumental parts he's written and recorded on drums, percussion, bass, guitar, sax and organ. His work will have a strong sculptural presence: He's building cabinets for stacked boom boxes and is modifying a late '60s Collins turntable to house cassette decks. As far as calling his work a performance, Fachini laughs, "I'll be playing cassette tapes. I might be off to the side dancing. Is that a performance?"

Last year, Hazel Blake, who works at Susanne Hilberry Gallery, introduced Fachini to Kertess. He recalls that Kertess "came over to my place, and after the second song, he told me to shut the music off. I thought, 'God, I played the wrong stuff, or those were too weird or too long.' He asked if I did it by myself, and then he left. That night he called from the airport and said he'd love for me to be in the show."

The craziness started for Fachini, who has plenty of time to work, but "no car, no clothes, no studio and no bank account, literally. No resources." His life has quickly gotten complicated, but he's grateful to be included. His work, in concept, is a good choice, considering how many of Detroit's visual artists live, work and play with musicians. It's reflective of the cross-breeding that goes on here and in the contemporary scene at large these days.

However, some locals are already upset that more regional artists won't be featured in the premiere. Jef Bourgeau, founder of the Museum of New Art in Pontiac, says contemporary art museums can launch the national recognition and reputation of local artists, citing Chicago's MCA, which opened in 1967 with an exhibition of emerging Chicago artists. "The old MCA was key to establishing the Hairy Who and the Imagists. Even the Indianapolis Contemporary and Cincinnati's contemp are including local artists in their full exhibits."

But George N'Namdi, owner of the N'Namdi Gallery near MOCAD, says, "I don't see them doing that immediately. One of the first things that a museum like this wants is to establish themselves as a national player. Then after that, they can get local artists involved, eventually." N'Namdi adds that local artists would be better served if they exhibit with out-of-towners.

Artist Graem Whyte, who curates the popular This Week in Art series of local art at Motor City Brewing Works, says, "The idea of having Detroit artists in the first show is ludicrous. Maybe down the road, I can see that. But I think what they are doing is great. It's exactly what we need."

Contemporary artists love to complain about contemporary museums, says Rachel Weiss, who teaches arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "It's always a contested relationship. The inclusion of local artists in curatorial programming is a tightrope all museums walk." But Weiss doesn't see why the solution has to be a yes-or-no answer.

As acting curator, Cope insists it's not. He says the museum is open to showing anyone, no matter where they live, as long as their work is quality. Miro adds: "Why would we want to compete with places like CAID and MONA and the Detroit Artists Market? You can name 10 terrific organizations that serve local artists. We don't need to compete with them, we need to support them. We will show Detroit artists, but in the end, it also makes the local artists stronger to see others who are working from all over the world. We're not a local culture anywhere anymore. This institution is about the fact that we're a global culture."

Kertess curated the 1995 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and there's been some question as to whether he's still a major player in the contemporary art scene, and whether or not the artists showing in Meditations are indeed on the cutting edge of contemporary art. A few of them present new work, made specifically for this show, but Mark Bradford will exhibit art from 1993, and Paine's SCUMAK machines are also more than a decade old. In choosing Kertess to assemble the inaugural show, Miro says they went for someone who would exemplify what they believed the museum can and should be in terms of world-class, innovative, thoughtful, challenging, superb art. Hilberry was also friends with Kertess.

Shrink rap

"It could be a cluster-fuck." That was one of several comments from the crowd in Cranbrook's DeSalle Auditorium a few weeks ago, as German researchers Anke Hageman and Anita Kaspar joined Cope and Cranbrook Art Museum's Brian Young to present a panel discussion on Shrinking Cities, MOCAD's second show, opening in February 2007.

Part 1 of the exhibition, featuring more than 50 exhibits by artists, architects, filmmakers, journalists and sociologists about the shrinking of postindustrial cities in the world, is funded by Germany's Federal Cultural Foundation. The exhibit made its world premiere in Berlin two years ago and traveled to several sites, including contemporary art museums in Halle and Leipzig, Germany. According to MOCAD's Web site, the show is scheduled to visit New York, Tokyo, Moscow and Liverpool, among other locations.

The Detroit show, co-sponsored by MOCAD and Cranbrook Art Musuem, will present two parts: The first has already exhibited, and a second, new series of works respond to those in the first. A bus will be available to transport viewers between venues to see a symptom of a shrinking city firsthand: white flight. According to MOCAD, "This collaborative venture presents, among other things, a unique opportunity to explore the multiple and often complex relationships between city and suburb."

Shrinking Cities has already been a point of contention for the museum, for a few reasons. Some artists say it represents a conflict of interest for curator Cope, who is a member of a handful of curatorial teams involved in the project. Although Shrinking Cities has never exhibited in Detroit, which is one good reason for metro Detroiters to see it, some local artists claim Cope has personal motivations. On Ann Gordon's blog, detroitarts.blogspot.com, "Dagmar" writes:

"I want to believe Mitch Cope has only good intentions. Yet these intentions ... appear unethical: that the museum's paid curator, not only selecting the work, has selected his own."

Cope responded to the lambasting bloggers: "It is not uncommon for artist/curators to put their own work in shows, usually large group shows. This is done all over the world. The deciding factor is the work. As for Shrinking Cities, I was one curator out of 12 and was asked to put in one piece out of over 60 different pieces/projects. Every curator did work on the show as it is quite normal in Europe to do so." Professor Weiss agrees this is "kosher" in the museum world.

There has also been debate whether a show about failing postindustrial cities conveys "the healing qualities of creativity" MOCAD trumpets. No doubt, there will have to be a great deal of PR work to prove that the show is, as Cope says, "about people, not ruins."

At the panel discussion, researcher Hageman attempted to explain that Shrinking Cities is not about "helping the city." Suffice it to say, she stunned a few folks interested in activism rather than ideologies. But Michael Stone-Richards, who teaches critical theory, literature and modern art history at the College for Creative Studies, had a different take: "It seems to me that Detroit's problems are structural and require a structural response. A museum is a conceptual place, a place, by its very nature, to throw out ideas, to get the dialogue started."

A forum for discussion is sorely needed in the city, but at Cranbrook, the conversation began with a predominantly white audience of suburbanites. The panelists welcomed artists and writers to submit project proposals, which, if accepted, would be showcased in MOCAD's show. But with little more than four months to go, the invitation, although seemingly sincere, is probably futile.

'Like the cool kids'

Mitch Cope's to-do lists are long these days, and include writing more to-do lists. Besides organizing all aspects of set-up and installation of the first two shows, he's busy, for example, ordering 5,000 pounds of plastic and 150 pounds of cherry red pigment for Roxy Paine's SCUMAK machine. He's also screwing a mailbox onto the building and sticking the address of the museum onto the building. He's buying Mason screws and mops, and making a list of the magazines for the museum shop. And trying to score Red Wings tickets for Meditations artist Jon Pylypchuk, visiting from Winnipeg.

Cope is one of only two salaried employees at MOCAD; the group also hired former Detroit Artists Market employee Jeseca Dawson as administrator. But there are a lot of people helping out. Several artists, writers and educators, both academics and nonacademics, are involved in getting the place off the ground. In the works are journals, edited by locally based author and critic Lynn Crawford, linked to exhibitions and featuring a rotating group of associate and contributing editors.

Collector and MOCAD funder Julie Reyes Taubman (daughter-in-law of shopping mall magnate Alfred Taubman) is now editing a book of Detroit photographs — formerly edited by Cope — and will donate the proceeds to MOCAD. Performance artist Holly Hughes, an associate professor of art and design and theater at the University of Michigan, is programming a literary and performance series with Crawford, Michael Stone-Richards and local author Peter Markus. Writer, director, dancer and choreographer Aku Kadogo, who's been living out of the country for almost 30 years, has returned to Detroit and plans to help with theatrical programming. And Valerie Parks, a local artist and part-time educator at the DIA, is working with artist John Corbin, who recently moved back from New York, on MOCAD's Sunday family programming.

In April, Gordon wrote on her blog: "It still feels like those involved are like the mafia or the cool kids in high school that don't want you to question anything and if you do then they seem to give you weird glances or label you as a 'problem.' It just feels that they want to keep only those in the small 'in' crowd involved." And yet on more than one occasion on her site, she mentions sitting down in a discussion with Miro, other Detroit artists and writers, to talk about the organization.

Still, Gordon has a point. Is it the same people doing the same stuff? Miro and Hilberry have been friends for years; Corbin has shown with Susanne Hilberry Gallery for more than 20 years; Cope was in an exhibit there last year; and even artist Sara Blakeman, who's taken on the responsibility of pulling together the MOCAD store and organizing the music for the opening night event, works at Hilberry's gallery. Artist Scott Hocking is responsible for taking Kertess on his "Detroit" tour, including studio stops. He has a solo show at Susanne Hilberry gallery this month, and provided artwork for the fund-raiser at Julie and Bobby Taubman's house in Bloomfield Hills last spring.

Miro says, "We're sorry that people on the blog feel that way, but they need to give us a chance. Being involved is a full-time job, so we are looking for people who can and will devote a lot of time." MOCAD's board has a good mix of young and mature members, but the apparent lack of ethnic diversity also makes the group seem insular. Miro won't comment on the breakdown of the board, but it's a problem other nonprofits knowingly struggle with in the area. Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit's board, for instance, is only 12 percent African-American and nearly 70 percent male. All 17 members of Detroit Artists Market's board are white; there are three African-Americans on an auxiliary committee.

The "arrow" campaign is MOCAD's first step in reaching out to the community at large; it functions as both an outreach effort and a publicity stunt. The idea came from Cope. As a Hamtramck resident, he noticed the large number of folks in his neighborhood who use cell phones to take photos and text their friends. He figured it was a good medium to send MOCAD's message: Art is everywhere.

The logo is on the front of the sticker and the back gives the directions: "Use this sticker to identify a place, person or object of inspiration — where art begins." MOCAD reps are busy pushing the stickers on the public, asking them to point the arrow toward what inspires them and snap a picture. Anyone can e-mail the photo to MOCAD at [email protected] or text it to 313-600-1032 and see the published results on mocadetroit.org.

First year's free

If MOCAD's promises seem vain or vague, it may be because the group is in flux. "First of all, I'm a writer and a critic. That's where I belong," Miro says about her role as temporary director. "We need a real professional, someone who has the education to run it right. It seems a little early to judge an institution that hasn't even opened its doors."

One marker of a museum on the right track is the importance it places on education, according to a list of expectations published by the American Association of Museums. Professor Weiss agrees. "You'll want to look for who shows up there — education groups or socialites," she says. For proof they have the public's interest at heart, Miro says the first year they're open, entrance to the museum is free.

That's a generous gesture, but it's money MOCAD could surely use. Jason Hall says, "The classic problem new institutions face is capital flow. Usually there's enough money to get it started. Most museums expect a surge in the first year or two. But the real question is what kind of stratgeies are you going to employ to keep it up? You shouldn't undertake this unless you've done a whole lot of planning."

The group needs proof of some success before it can apply for state funding. "Public funding is very tight and the cultural community grows all the time," says Barbara Kratchman, president of ArtServe Michigan. "It's highly competitive and many organizations that have been receiving grants and are the anchor organizations, their money has been reduced." Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs gave out over $10 million for 2007, which is nothing compared to the amount of even a few years ago.

When Gov. John Engler left office at the end of 2002, there was $24 million in the state budget for arts. According to Kratchman, when Gov. Granholm came in, she was dealing with deficits, and the budget was cut to $12 million, where it has hovered for a while now. "We have a great cultural community that's undervalued and under-rewarded," Kratchman says. "But we're just happy we can join in other cities large and small who have contemporary art museums."

The burden then falls more heavily on private donors, as is usually the case in new establishments. How does MOCAD plan to pull in funding locally when it's so tight, without hurting an institution like the DIA? They say, by billing themselves as a different kind of institution. Danialle Karmanos, who is a freelance video producer and the wife of Compuware's CEO Peter Karmanos, is one such board member. The couple is not on the DIA's board, or any other arts-related board in the city.

Karmanos says MOCAD would be smart to target younger audiences. "If you look at the research on Generation X, Y and Millennials, you find that they are the most philanthropic-minded. They're the most likely to have dyed hair, but they're also the most likely to help an old lady cross the street. That age group feels compelled to give back. Maybe we'd have 100 really creative members contribute smaller amounts than one person throwing in all the money." As for those with the income, Karmanos points out, "Automotive companies are targeting them continuously."

Other major donors are board members, including Miro, Julie Reyes Taubman, Birmingham boutique owner Linda Dresner, and, in a weird twist, Terry Rakolta: a Bloomfield Hills resident who had a brief bit of fame in the 1990s as an advocate for censoring Married With Children, Howard Stern's radio show and other nationally broadcast programs. One of MOCAD's founding members, Burt Aaron, will hopefully play a major role in upcoming exhibition programming. Aaron's on the board of trustees at Independent Curators International, a traveling exhibition group based in New York City, and on the acquisition committees at the MCA Chicago and Art Institute of Chicago. He's also worked with curators at contemporary art centers across the United States. Most board members have promised funding for four years. The group has also received grants from the Community Foundation and Compuware, as well as donations of services from a number of companies. The museum doesn't open to the public until Saturday, Oct. 28, but their preview event on Thursday, Oct. 26, is a fund-raiser, and they've planned another at the Karmanos' house next May, featuring an auction of carefully vetted local, national and international art.

Midtown makeover

As Magidson and Brock recount in their report on arts and cultural communities, Stage 3 is "stimulating economic growth." The city needs to see an observable increase in economic activity, in which visitors and future residents begin arriving in town to check out the museum and an adjoining district with restaurants, galleries and shops.

Stage 4 lays out a plan for reinforcing identity through continued growth. In their model, MOCAD must join in efforts with other local institutions and businesses to redefine the neighborhood and get more people moving in. Midtown has already had much development success, thanks to the University Cultural Center Association. Funded by the Arts League of Michigan, the district will soon have an African-American cultural center, the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center, and a walking path from Forest leading right up to MOCAD at Garfield.

In a few months, GR N'Namdi Gallery will also undergo a rennovation and expansion next door to its current location on Forest, just off Woodward Avenue. The space will be broken up into separate spaces for other galleries, a bookstore and a café. N'Namdi says, with all the redevelopment, "I don't know if MOCAD will bring those galleries from the suburbs in, but I bet you'll see others will come up. It's almost time now for a new generation of galleries, built by 35-year-olds." ('Namdi, himself, relocated from Birmingham back to Detroit in 2001).

Step 5 of Magidson and Brock's model means sustaining activity and identity in the area. A successful contemporary art museum could be integral to this vision, presenting art as a barometer of how we live now.

In the final stage, the reports states: "The community, of course, is not just a place that people plan to visit; it's a place where people want to live."

That relates to what Miro heard when she initiated conversations with collectors almost a decade ago. More than a few folks asked her: "Can you bring my child back?"

There is, of course, no one answer to that problem. But recently, Sara Blakeman, a Cranbrook grad originally from New Jersey, said something promising. She said it in passing, and it wasn't in response to MOCAD. But to be fair, the museum is what got her going on the topic. "I was going to move away a while ago," Blakeman said. "But all these little treats keep popping up."


Meditations in an Emergency opens with a patrons preview from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, with food and drinks. Guests can meet the artists and tour the show with curator Klaus Kertess. Tickets are $125 in advance and $135 at the door. Museum Preview ($55) is at 8 p.m., with an after-party ($10) featuring Ghostly International DJs from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. The museum opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 248-851-5179.


See Also:

Letting light in
What one architect sees for a museum’s future
by Rebecca Mazzei
Rebecca Mazzei, Metro Times arts editor, chooses to pronounce MOCAD as mocha-D in effort to campaign against mo-cad, which sounds like a computer software program. Send comments to

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