In 2012, residents of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties voted to approve a 0.2 mills property tax to benefit the Detroit Institute of Arts for ten years from January 2013 to December 2022 (a total of approximately $250M). Subsequently, in March 2022, the residents of these three counties (the “Tri-County” region) voted to renew this millage for another ten years (an estimated further $330M, for an estimated total public investment of $580M). The benefits that the residents of the Tri-County region receive in return for the millage are defined by Service Contracts, which are negotiated for each county for each ten-year millage period. The Service Contracts are negotiated and administered by Art Institute Authorities, whose members are appointed by each county’s Chief Executive and Commissioners.
This report provides a scorecard for the first ten years of the DIA Millage (2013-2022). It addresses the following four areas:
Summary: based on a comparison with eight similar metropolitan art institutes across the United States, the DIA produces one-third as many exhibitions as would be expected from an institution with its financial and physical resources.
Background: A visitor to the Detroit Institute of Arts in mid-July 2022 would have seen a total of two exhibitions. The first was an annual show of work by Detroit-area School students. The second was a small installation of paintings and works on paper created by contemporaries of Van Gogh.
In Transcendence: A Portrait of Corey Teamer, a 2018 mural by Ijania Cortez at Brush and Baltimore, the eponymous figure rotates to face the viewer through three successive images. Each image is slightly larger and at a slightly higher elevation, and this, combined with the glowing orange, Rothko-esque background, reinforces the ascendant trajectory implied by the title.
In San Clara Del Cobre, Mexico, where a nineteen-year-old Juan Martinez went to trade school, and where copper working goes back to the pre-Columbian era, they do things the hard way. Standing in a close circle around a hot ingot, typically manufactured from recycled scrap, the copper-workers beat, in turn, to flatten the ingot to the desired thickness before creating the beautiful utilitarian objects for which the city is known. It is punishing labor, but there is a magic in the rhythmic blows, the cascading sparks, and the gradual transformation of the metal.
Born Chicago, IL, 1981 / BFA, San Francisco Art Institute, CA; MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL / Lives in Detroit
“WHAT IS AN ALGORITHM?” Ask Mimi Onuoha and Mother Cyborg in their 2018 zine A People’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence. If the question appears startling in its directness, it may be because we have become accustomed to having the spotlight pointed in the opposite direction, to have algorithms direct their gaze on us. Onouha and Cyborg’s zine is a grassroots statement of non-conformity to this power dynamic.
Born Detroit, 1964 / BA, Oakland University; MLIS, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
“I‘m a Fellini fan,” confides painter, musician, archivist, and all-around cultural polymath John Bunkley. “The question I’m always asking myself is, ‘What would Fellini do if he came to Detroit?'” It is a good question. What would the late Italian director, whose films famously interpret everyday life as a magical synthesis of dream and reality, make of the otherworldly streetscapes and raw humanity of the beautiful city of Detroit?
Born Iuka, MS, 1970 / Studies at Grambling State University, LA / Lives in Detroit and elsewhere
“Somehow, I will dissolve into one of my constructs ….. I don’t understand the process yet.”
The late Detroit poet and musician Mick Vranich described his ever-increasing estrangement from even the outermost reaches of mainstream culture as a process of moving from the underground to the underworld. There’s a similarly inexorable feel to Onyx Ashanti’s ongoing life journey of transformation, transhumanism, and, as the above quote predicts, perhaps even transmutation.
Born Medina, Ohio, 1986; Studies at Memphis College of Art; Lives in Detroit
Hobo hieroglyphs and graffiti conversations of indeterminate age flashing by on successive railroad cars. Buildings, streetscapes, and the signature architectural details of long-past designers. The sun, rising in the east and setting in the west. Past histories, big and small, hinted at by countless physical marks or archived records. Every W C Bevan mural begins with one foot in its local environment and the other in the artist’s eclectic but highly coherent worldview.
Born Dallas, Texas, 1988 / BA, Western Michigan University / Lives in Detroit
“Sometimes I wonder if my work is really about performance,” Kayla Powers confides, offhandedly. It is a strange conjecture from an artist whose primary medium is weaving. Still, it makes sense when you realize how deeply intertwined Powers’s art is with her desire to model a particular type of relationship to the world.
Power’s work is determinedly local. She sources regionally grown fibers, and, crucially, she has developed the knowledge to create natural dyes from plants that she grows and forages in Detroit. Powers has learned these skills through a lengthy process of research and experimentation. Still, she is generous in making them available to others through workshops and how-to articles on her website. As she says, “being a good community member is important to me.”
Objective: Require the Wayne County Art Institute Authority to comply with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Why we’re doing this: So that the people of Wayne County can hold the Detroit Institute of the Arts to higher standards.
Actions to date: we consulted with an attorney specializing in government transparency issues, and on 9/7/20, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Wayne County for information on Art Institute Authority meetings and meeting minutes.
Outcomes: As a result of our actions, Wayne County created a home page for the Art Institute Authority which includes dates for upcoming meetings, members of the authority, minutes from previous meetings, bylaws, governing legislation, service agreements with the DIA, and other information.
Objective: require the Wayne County Art Institute Authority (WCAIA) to implement checks and balances to ensure that Wayne County’s citizens receive full value from the ~$10M/year they transfer to the DIA.
Actions and Outcome to Date:
Making the WCAIA accountable for the money they transfer to the DIA is a long-term project that we have broken into smaller steps.
1. Make the WCAIA hold open meetings and publish meeting minutes. This is complete, see here. 2. Make the WCAIA/WCC follow a transparent process for appointing board members to the WCAIA. This is in process, see here. 3. Complete a benchmark of the DIA in relation to similar museums in comparable U.S. metropolitan areas. 4. Make the WCAIA engage in a participatory budgeting process in order to get meaningful public input 5. Make the WCAIA include appropriate benchmarks and services when establishing the service contract with the DIA
Born Detroit, 1981 / BA, Howard University / Lives in Detroit
Multimedia artist Halima Cassells relates her artistic trajectory to the birth of her three daughters – Nele, Nia-Rah, and Nzinga. This is a perfect illustration of Cassells’s belief that creativity is a practice that is inextricably intertwined with life. Homeschooled by “hippie” parents on the East Side of Detroit before heading to Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse and Cass Tech, Cassells identifies a visit to Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (Essay’d #109) as a disorienting, but ultimately life-changing event. “It was the first time I saw art living and breathing,” she says.
The evening also includes a special performance by DSO musicians Principal Percussion Joe Becker, Assistant Principal Percussion Andrés Pichardo-Rosenthal, and cello David LeDoux in response to Carole Harris’s work.
The entire video can be viewed on youtube via the link below
In this highly interactive, online
workshop, participants will work collaboratively to apply the
curatorial process to design and create compelling projects in the
field of ecology. During the workshop, participants will work in
small online groups to develop their ideas by collectively discussing
a series of guided questions. At the end of the course, participants
will get the opportunity to review their exhibition or project
proposal with leading curators.
this highly interactive, online workshop, participants will work
collaboratively to apply the curatorial process to design and create
compelling online projects. During the workshop, participants will
work in small online groups to develop their ideas by answering a
series of guided questions. At the end of the course, participants
will get the opportunity to review either a design proposal or a
working prototype with leading area curators.