DIA ‘courts’ new visitors

Revitalized Kresge Court creates place for people to meet, dine, unwind

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 26, 2013

 Tables like these at the Kresge Court are topped by large sheets of paper, so visitors can jot down ideas or doodle, and then take their creations home with them.

Tables like these at the Kresge Court are topped by large sheets of paper, so visitors can jot down ideas or doodle, and then take their creations home with them.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

DETROIT — Detroit Institute of Arts visitors are used to coming to appreciate fine paintings and sculptures, but museum officials are now inviting them to stop by to hang out, relax or meet with business colleagues.

A completely revamped Kresge Court — which opened to large crowds June 14 — resembles a hip living room, with comfortable seating areas, gourmet snacks and light meals, Starbucks coffee beverages, beer and wine, and free Wi-Fi and iPad stations. A “cultural concierge” will be available to offer information about what’s going on at the museum and the surrounding Midtown area.

DIA Director Graham Beal said the museum wanted to create a community gathering space.

“I hope it will offer to visitors a very special ambiance — elegant, dignified,” he said.

The project was made possible by a $268,500 grant from Chicago-based ArtPlace America, which brings together national and regional foundations, federal agencies and banks for the purpose of supporting creative place-making efforts.

As part of the grant, the DIA is developing its South Lawn on Woodward as a community gathering spot, as well, with plans for concerts, outdoor activities, local food trucks and more. The South Lawn launches with the program series Lawn Party! The first Lawn Party! takes place during the Concert of Colors, with free performances at 5 p.m. July 5 by October Babies and at 7 p.m. July 5 by Feufollet. Other Lawn Party! programs are Aug. 16-18, Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 20-22.

The grant to the DIA was one of six that ArtPlace America has made to projects in Detroit’s Midtown area, totaling $2,048,500, said Lyz Crane, director of partnerships and special projects for ArtPlace. She said this project was envisioned as a “community living room.”

“We’re a place-funder that sees art as a way to drive changes in place and drive vibrancy in communities,” Crane said.

The revamped Kresge Court was designed by Patrick Thompson, a principal with Patrick Thompson Design LLC of Detroit. His mix of mid-century modern and traditional furniture speaks to the museum’s long history, as well as the forward-thinking nature of the space, which offers plugs in the tables for laptop computers or other electronic gadgets.

“The furniture evokes the past in certain areas, but it also has modern elements,” Beal said.

Creative thinking, whether by individuals or small groups, is encouraged. Some of the tables are topped with sheets of white paper that visitors can write or draw on and leave or take with them, Thompson said.

DIA officials wanted to deepen the museum’s connection to the community, said Bradford Frost, a Detroit Revitalization Fellow and special assistant for community and economic development at the DIA.

“I think the museum has a huge opportunity to be a center of creative exchange,” Frost said.

A center trellis gives the appearance of “a room within a room,” Thompson said, and faux hedges bring the outdoors in, as does the abundance of natural light in Kresge Court.

“The concept (for the space) is loosely based on a traditional English garden,” Thompson said. “The seating and boxwood hedges create pathways like (one would find) in a traditional English garden.”

Along with high-tech offerings like the iPad stations, visitors can also go low-tech and enjoy browsing art books on display in Kresge Court. Those who find a book they really love can purchase a new copy inside the museum gift shop.

The renovated space is open to people, whether they opt to enjoy the museum and its exhibits or not.

“Of course, we hope people will go into the museum,” Beal said.

DIA officials are planning on scheduling live music by soloists or small ensembles, likely on the weekends.

“We’re hoping that people see this as their space, as a space they can use and relax and be surrounded by this wonderful art, make connections, interact, be inspired, wander around the neighborhood,” Crane said.

The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward in Detroit’s Cultural Center. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. General admission is free to residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties because of a millage approved by voters last year. For more information, visit www.dia.org or call (313) 833-7900.