Don’t Go Away, DIA

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It was only a year ago, sitting glumly in the back seat of our realtor’s car, that I had ever heard of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“We have one of the finest art museums in the world. Some of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous paintings are right here,” she said as she drove us to the next house listing, as I tried to learn the difference between Long Lake, Orchard Lake, and Lone Pine Roads.

A world-renowned art museum among the rubble of Detroit?  I never knew that. And how could it even compare to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art? or MOMA? Museums of my childhood and young adulthood.

Because when you are a New York City-centered Detroit outsider, the only things you hear about Detroit are what’s reported in the national news: Blight. Murder. Crime. Corruption.

Ever since I unpacked the very last (necessary) box of possessions in my new home in Detroit suburbia, I have been itching to get to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The recent news about Detroit’s filing for bankruptcy, and the auction vultures from Christie’s invited in by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr circling the DIA’s galleries to see what can fetch the best price to pay off the city’s debts, made my need to visit all the more urgent.

it wasn’t until my parents visited that I finally made it there. Thanks, mom & dad!

Contrary to what critics have said, like those who think the city cannot afford the luxury of hanging on to a frivolous art collection only to be seen or enjoyed by an elite few, this art museum is one of the more accessible to the public in the country.

Unlike asking every visitor for a “suggested” admission fee of $20 like at the Met, or plunking down $25 to see The Scream or Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup at the MOMA, this museum is FREE.

That’s right. FREE, if you live in Wayne, Macomb, or Oakland Counties and have an id to prove it.  That’s because our taxes go to fund it. I don’t mind that my tax dollars go to fund such an institution, yet why don’t some of those dollars go to pay for a school nurse?

(That’s right, there is no school nurse in any of my children’s schools, but that’s for another post.)

My parents paid just $6 admission for seniors. As happy I was to hear that admission was free, I was happier still to be able to afford to give a $10 donation for my visit. Worth every penny.

On my first visit to the DIA, I saw many great things happening there.

Like a young man in his 20s discussing the light and dark shadings of a self-portrait of Salvator Rosa from the 1650’s with an older man, perhaps his father, who was in a wheelchair.salvatorrosa

I saw young art students sketching in the Medieval gallery.

I saw other art students taking notes on a painting in another gallery.

I saw a docent giving a free tour and lecture about Vincent Van Gogh to a diverse group of visitors, including a guy sporting a doo rag.


I was drawn to the strength of the zig-zagged and horizontal brush strokes and wanted to sail away with Vincent on the Oise River.

bankoiseauversIn another gallery, I caught someone stealing a kiss at a peasant wedding dance:

P1150277I listened to another docent happy and eager to share with us her knowledge of  Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) and his philosophy behind the bigger-than-life frescos paying homage to Detroit’s once booming culture of industry and innovation.


Just as it did once, the city of Detroit and the innovation of its people can rise again.

There is so much positive energy here and hope for a better downtown. It was evident in the docents who worked in the galleries. I will be back here. I’ll bring my family here and will bring my daughter here especially where she can sketch to her heart’s delight.

It was evident in the restaurant owners who served us crepes filled with brie and strawberries for lunch after our visit at Good Girls Go to Paris.

You can’t sell off artwork that has been entrusted to the people of Detroit. After all, there it is, pledged and written in stone.


A city reduced to selling off its culture? I cannot think of a worse nightmare:
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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

One response to “Don’t Go Away, DIA”

  1. Sharon Cohen says :

    It took me much longer to appreciate Rochester, NY from living for over 19 years in my birth city of Toronto, Canada. No matter what ‘they’ say the problems of a city your optimism will find the joy in living anywhere as long
    as you remember that your glass is always half full.


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