Museum InfoMedia Room

DIA interior
DIA interior

DIA Detroit Film Theatre Invites You To “Take Your Seats”

Monday, November 15, 2004

November 15, 2004 (Detroit)—The Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) historic 1927 auditorium, home to the popular Detroit Film Theatre (DFT), is in need of new seats – 1150 of them, to be exact. The DFT, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, is one of North America’s most acclaimed showcases of contemporary and classic films. Seventy-seven years and millions of patrons later, the auditorium seats have reached the end of their life.

A $468,000 “Take Your Seats” fundraising campaign was initiated in July by the The Friends of Detroit Film Theatre, a DIA auxiliary. For a tax-deductible contribution of $325, the public can “take a seat” by having up to 60 characters engraved on a nameplate mounted on a seat armrest. Half the money has been raised by the Friends, and the deadline to raise the remainder is March 2005. The seats would then be installed in June 2005.

“The DIA auditorium is one of the architectural gems of Detroit, and we are really counting on public support to help us restore it to its original grandeur,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “While there is a demonstrable need to refurbish the original seats, it’s also important that we address the condition and integrity of the whole space.”

The museum’s plan is to carefully remove the seats and fabricate new ones, reusing the original wooden trim and decorative cast iron end standards. The seats would be upholstered in fabrics chosen for their similarity to Cret’s original specifications. Through extensive research, DFT staff has developed a plan that would ensure the seats would maintain their original look while offering state-of-the-art comfort, safety and durability.

For information on how to purchase a seat or make a contribution, call 313-833-4686 or email lbaranski@dia.org.

The Auditorium

The 1150-seat auditorium was designed by Paul Philippe Cret, regarded as one the most important architects of large-scale American civil engineering projects during the early 20th century. Cret collaborated with Detroit architect C. Howard Crane, designer of the lavish Detroit theatres of the 1920s such as the Fox. The Auditorium combines Cret’s elegant sense of space and occasion with Crane’s theater engineering sophistication.

The auditorium’s walls and ceiling were designed around the extensive pipes and bellows of a classical organ built by the Cassavant Freres of Montreal. The mezzanine level Crystal Gallery features a two-story, vaulted gallery, with floor-to-ceiling crystal reflecting walls on either end. Many decorative elements, such as the wrought iron interior grilles by Samuel Yellin and colorful fountains and terra-cotta tiles along the staircase from Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery, represent the highest level of American craftsmanship from the era.

During the early years of the Depression, the auditorium was home to the World Adventure lecture and film series. Among the explorers who provided live narration to films of their expeditions were Admiral Richard Byrd and Amelia Earhart. Over the next 77 years, the auditorium was a venue for avant-garde playwrights (Eugene O’Neill), postwar jazz giants (Dizzy Gilespie) and leading cultural and arts figures (Buckminster Fuller, Claes Oldenburg). A list of personal appearances from the last 30 years include such luminaries as Princess Grace of Monaco, Milos Forman, Ettoré Scola, Spike Lee, Rosa Parks, John Sayles, Gordon Parks, Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, James Earl Jones, and Robert Duvall.

The auditorium has been cited by Lawrence Kardish, curator of Film Exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a “pilgrimage cathedral for those who love the cinema. In an era in which cinemas have been diminished, the DIA’s atmospheric auditorium is a landmark.” Architect Michael Graves has expressed his admiration for the auditorium as a unique film venue, offering an experience impossible to duplicate in modern theaters.

Detroit Film Theatre

The Detroit Film Theatre shows an extraordinary range of new films from around the world, as well as restored versions of classic films and documentaries. It is regularly named among the “Best of Detroit” in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Metro Times, and Hour Magazine. Among the exclusive Detroit area premieres at the DFT have been “The Piano,” “My Left Foot,” “Ran,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Crying Game,” “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Wings of Desire.”

“The historic auditorium, coupled with the popular programming associated with it, generates community pride and enthusiastic audiences,” says Elliot Wilhelm, DIA curator of film. “Our goal is to continue to broaden the audience for high quality international cinema. We believe that through the universal language of cinema, our audiences can enrich their perspective on the world’s cultures by experiencing them through the work of great storytellers, observers and artists.