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DIA interior
DIA interior

The New Detroit Institute of Arts One Year Later

Monday, October 27, 2008

Revamped Museum a Huge Hit


October 27, 2008 (Detroit) –Nearly a year ago the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) reopened with a new look and philosophy that was all about helping visitors make personal connections with the art. The resulting larger crowds, increased media attention, awards, and recognition by other museums are evidence that we’re making that connection.


Annual attendance for the DIA averages about 350,000 a year. But since last year’s Nov. 10 gala grand opening, 532,273 visitors have explored the new DIA as of Oct. 26. Memberships are up by 23 percent, and there has been a significant increase in earned revenue from the Museum Shop, CaféDIA, group sales and third party events.


The six-year, $158 million, renovation and gallery reinstallation began in 2001, originally to make structural upgrades. Since this necessitated emptying the galleries and putting the art back when finished, Director Graham W.J. Beal saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink how the DIA presents its collection to the public, resulting in an unprecedented focus on the general museum visitor. Visitors can now find many more ways to engage with the art, as the DIA’s renowned collection is presented in its historical, social, political, and spiritual contexts with improved labels, numerous interactive devices and a small number of high-tech, interpretive stations.


“Our goal was to engage visitors and help them find personal meaning in art,” Beal said. “We broke with the time-honored and intellectually-based framework of art history and presented art in the context of the human needs it fulfilled. In the different kinds of labels and interactive stations, we avoid specialist terminology and employ straightforward language that directly connects the viewer to the art. Everywhere, we strove to give the visitor a sense of comfort and control.”


The response to the new DIA has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. The comments below are typical of the feedback received from visitors.


“My wife and I took advantage of the free opening weekend at the DIA and were certainly glad we did,” one visitor wrote. “In those three hours (of our visit), we only made it through the Native American, Asian, Egyptian and African-American wings. I say ‘only’ because the way the museum has been redesigned we actually took the time to stop at all the piece explanations. For example, we had seen the piece Change Your Luck several times before, but until today had never truly understood the symbolism depicted in the painting. It goes without saying that we will be back, and we have also decided to purchase a companion membership this year.”


Beal’s peers in the art world have also reacted with enthusiasm. The Association of Art Museum Directors held its annual conference at the DIA in June, giving the museum an opportunity to showcase itself to more than 250 impressed museum directors and art scholars from the US, Canada, and Mexico. Beal received several letters from them following the meeting including one that read: “Congratulations on a phenomenal transformation of the DIA. It was a joy to see the new collection installations and interpretation. Well worth the wait.”


The DIA has also gained recognition and interest from other fine arts museums. Several have visited and met with DIA staff to learn about the museum’s innovative approach to reaching a broader spectrum of visitors. They were impressed with the level of planning, research and positive reaction from visitors, and have benchmarked the DIA for ideas to use in their own institutions. Among them are the Cleveland Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Dayton Art Institute, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.


The new presentation has also garnered a tremendous amount of media attention, locally, nationally and internationally. Among the media outlets that covered the new DIA are NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Art in America, NPR and The Washington Post.


In addition to the new DIA itself, Beal and the staff have made a focused effort to provide innovative programming that is in keeping with the DIA’s new philosophy of broadening its appeal: This summer’s Family Fitting Room, staffed largely by volunteers, helped guests size up their interests and build visits that were tailor-made for their families. Target Family Sundays have been packed with activities including drop-in workshops, family performances, and storytelling. And, the DIA appealed to the young adult crowd with a club-like Marble Lounge.


The museum has received several awards and honors for its accomplishments, and DIA staff members have been asked to write about both the planning process and results of the new installation.


The DIA Master Plan Project was selected by the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) for a 2008 Impact Award in September for redevelopment. The honor is conferred upon southeast Michigan commercial properties that significantly improve their surrounding communities. 


The Ann Arbor Advertising Club awarded the “Let Yourself Go” campaign seven 2008 local Addy Awards (four gold and three silver), four regional Addy Awards (one gold and three silver), and the entire campaign graduated to the national Addy Award competition.


The museum was also awarded a bronze 2008 Muse award for its technology-based interpretation.


Beal was named one of 10 Michiganians of the Year by The Detroit News, recognized for his outstanding leadership in bringing the museum into the 21st century through the renovation and new strategy for interpreting the art. He and board chairman Gene Gargaro were awarded honorary doctorates from the College for Creative studies due to their efforts in bringing about the new DIA.

Beal will also receive a Governor’s Arts and Culture Award for his leadership of an arts and culture organization with a budget over $1 million. The award recognizes a Michigan arts organization that has made outstanding contributions locally, regionally, and statewide. Nancy Jones, executive director of the DIA’s Learning and Interpretation Department, who was instrumental in the planning and implementation of the new interpretive strategy, is a finalist for a Governor’s Award in the Arts Educator category. (Winners will be announced at the awards gala on Nov. 13 at the DIA.)


Beal is encouraged by the successful first year.


“The responses to our museum’s new philosophy have exceeded my expectations,” Beal said. “We have a great success on our hands and we all look forward to building on it.”


Hours and admission:

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, and $4 for youth ages 6-17. DIA members are admitted free. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or see the website at



The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA),located at 5200 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, is one of the premier art museums in the United States and home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth.


Programs are made possible with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.




(See accompanying information below for other statistics).




Detroit Institute of Arts One Year Later

Nov. 10, 2007 to Oct. 26, 2008


  • 532,273 visitors have experienced the new DIA.
  • More than 57,000 people have attended the museum’s auditorium programs (Detroit Film Theatre, theatrical performances).
  • More than 2,700 people took advantage of the Family Fitting Room in July and August. This service, staffed largely by volunteers, helped guests size up their interests and build visits that were tailor-made for their families.
  • More than 356 corporate events and non-school related tour groups have taken place.
  • Nearly 1,600 student, public, special groups, and exhibition tours have taken place.
  • More than 13,000 memberships have been sold bringing the total membership households to more than 37,000.
  • More than 220 Speaker’s Bureau talks have taken place.
  • More than 310 people have applied to become a volunteer.
  • Twenty-four new docents were recruited and trained in preparation for the museums Grand Opening. Twenty-four prospective docents are currently going through the required 10-month training.  There are currently 86 active docents.
  • CaféDIA’s top selling food items have been the salad bar (more than 48,000), slices of cheese pizza (more than 7,300), sandwiches and wraps (more than 5,100), Angus cheeseburgers (more than 5,000). Top selling desserts have been lemon bars (more than 8,700), slices of cake (more than 5,900), and cookies (more than 5,400).
  • Top selling items in the Museum Shop include art glass rings (more than 1,700), Diego Rivera wall calendars (more than 1,400), and mobile phone holders (more than 920).



Shekini Jennings (313) 494-5242 

Pamela Marcil    (313) 833-7899