A lot more people are visiting and living in Midtown these days, but places for them to gather are few.
The Detroit Institute of Arts hopes to change that by creating what it calls a cultural living room.
The DIA is considering how its Kresge Court inner courtyard and front lawn could serve as gathering spots, with enhancements such as new seating, live musical performances, free Wi-Fi and lecturers.
“We would like … to really have it be a living room where people hang out, listen to music, hear a short lecture about art (or) … read the newspaper,” COO Annemarie Erickson said.
The DIA last week secured a $268,500 grant for the project from Chicago-based ArtPlace, a collaboration of 11 private foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts and seven federal agencies.
To collaborate on the effort, it has engaged four other groups: Midtown Detroit Inc., Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan, Detroit Creative Corridor Center and NBS Commercial Interiors, an authorized distributor for Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Inc.
The DIA played a role in economic development in Midtown early on with its contribution of four Victorian-era mansions and two carriage houses that now comprise the Inn on Ferry Street, Erickson said.
“We’re interested in maintaining and expanding that position,” she said, and the cultural living room is about contributing to what’s happening in Detroit in a new way.
“Community development and economic development go hand in hand. … You create the hub, (and) it brings people in (who) support the businesses and cultural organizations in the neighborhood.”
Over the next several months, the DIA plans to work with Midtown Detroit on public forums to gauge what nearby residents and employees would like to see in the museum’s cultural living room.
It plans to issue a request for proposals for an architect to help determine the best configurations for the spaces. NBS is donating 100 hours of space planning and design, and providing discounts on furnishings.
Bradford Frost, a fellow in Wayne State University’s Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program, is helping to shape the effort as special assistant for community and economic development at the DIA.
“The goal is to enhance and transform the Kresge Court and front lawn from (places) people visit occasionally to places they frequent much as they do different restaurants, coffee houses and parks,” he said.
The Cultural Alliance will help engage other cultural groups to provide programming, and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center will provide design, marketing and promotion assistance, as well as speakers and/or performers, Frost said.
An outdoor gathering space in Midtown is badly needed, “as we have some small-scale green spaces and parks, but no visible space along Woodward that is developed expressly for inviting the public to socialize, interact and connect,” said Midtown Detroit President Susan Mosey in an email.
The DIA is one of several Michigan cultural groups awarded ArtPlace grants this year. The Detroit artists group Power House Productions and the Flint Public Art Project were each awarded $250,000 grants.
Those followed earlier 2012 ArtPlace grants of $350,000 to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit to fund a major renovation and new green space, $80,000 to Wayne State University’s TechTown incubator and $900,000 to Midtown Detroit for the purchase of a vacant church building in the Sugar Hill Arts District and plans for a black box theater/music center and small outdoor theater venue nearby.
“The comeback of Detroit is of intense interest to our funders, just as it is for everyone who cares about the success of cities,” said ArtPlace director Carol Coletta in an emailed statement.
“What is learned during Detroit’s transformation will be valuable for communities everywhere.”