Research – DIA Exhibition Programming

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.

Given the resources available to the DIA, including the ~$30M/year funding provided by the public through the tri-county millage, a total of just two relatively minor exhibitions seems a bafflingly low level of programming activity.

This study examines whether the situation described above is typical of what visitors to an art institute in a major city might expect to encounter. It looks at the DIA’s long-term cultural productivity by aggregating the total number of exhibitions launched by the DIA from January 2013 to December 2021 in comparison to similar institutions in eight like-sized American metropolitan areas.

The starting point of January 2013 was chosen since it marks the beginning of the millage funding period, and hence the study is examining the amount of exhibition programming that the residents of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties have received in return for their property taxes.

The benchmark also summarizes the resources available to each institution in terms of gallery space and total salaries (normalized to the Detroit cost of living.)

The results show that the DIA is:

=> Fifth highest in available gallery space,
=> Second highest in salary costs (normalized to Detroit cost of living)
=> Lowest in terms of the number of exhibitions produced.

A striking comparison point is the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which has approximately the same gallery space and total salary bills but which produced three times as many exhibitions over the study period.

Indeed, if the visitor described in the first paragraph had been at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, rather than the DIA, they would have seen a total of sixteen exhibitions rather than two, a quite staggering disparity.

Another way of examining the data is to show the DIA in comparison to the average of the eight other institutions. When you look this way, the data shows that in comparison to the average of the other eight institutions, the DIA has

==> 22% more gallery space,
==> 46% higher salaries (normalized to Detroit cost of living)
==> 49% fewer exhibitions.

In simple terms, DIA is producing approximately one-third as many exhibitions as might be expected from an institution with its financial and physical resources.

Certainly, not all exhibitions are of equal stature, and exhibitions are not the only value the DIA provides beyond exhibiting its core collection, but even with these qualifications, this is a staggering statistic that warrants explanation.


  1. Metropolitan areas with comparable population sizes were taken from here.
  2. The closest equivalent institution to the DIA was identified in each city
  3. The gallery square footage for each institution was taken from here or from the institution’s own website. The gallery square footage for the Pheonix Art Museum was not found but estimated at 1/3 of the total square footage of the building.
  4. Total salaries for each institution were taken from the I990 for the last full financial year before the pandemic. Note that the High Museum figure was taken directly from the Woodruff Art Center’s annual report.
  5. Salaries were normalized to the Detroit cost of living using a standard cost of living calculator.
  6. The number of exhibitions that had a start date from 1/1/13 – 12/31/21 was counted directly from each institution’s website. Note that PAM exhibitions for 2013/4/5 were unavailable and were pro-rated from subsequent years. The DIA exhibitions for 2013/4/5 were counted from archived copies of the DIA’s website.