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Detroit: A Cultural Garden

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Detroit is lucky. Its founders valued art. Its founders prepared the cultural soil well, so that ideas flourish here. Music grows here. Theatre grows here. Fine art grows here. So informed visitors can come here on any given day and pick a bouquet of cultural events that will enrich them for the rest of their lives... seriously.

In this article, I provide the briefest of introductions to some of Detroit's venerable and deep-rooted cultural institutions. These institutions inspire residents and visitors alike, and many of these institutions have inspired people for over a hundred years. (I will expand on these institutions in the future, but all good conversations start with simple introductions -- and don't worry, I will not be so heavy-handed with metaphors next time (they're fun, though).)

Detroit Institute of Arts - The DIA recently celebrated its 125th year anniversary with a huge renovation ($158 million). The renovations provided more exhibition space (they have over 60,000 objects), and they installed several interactive devices to engage visitors (the best one is probably the virtual table where you sit at a virtual table to see an elaborate eighteenth-century French aristocratic dinner). While it is steeped in art history, it still embraces contemporary art. It regularly purchases artwork from contemporary artists, and it hosts contemporary lectures and installations. I just walked through its current photography and video exhibit, Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010, and it was a refreshing, substantive look at the city (a lot of the imagery and the videos focused on people (!) rather than abandoned buildings).

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - I purchased season tickets to the DSO last year, and then the musicians went on strike. Urgh. But I was still there for their triumphant return, and I was standing for all of the standing ovations (at times, it felt more like a rock concert than a symphony). The DSO caters to all audiences (Mozart to Brahms to John Williams (daaah dunt, daaah dunt, daah dunt, daah dunt daah dunt daah dunt)). In fact, my wife and I took our two-year-old daughter there to see a jazz quartet, and then all of us enjoyed the symphony's main performance geared toward families. At the end, I showed my daughter the stage and allowed her to practice her exaggerated bows.

Music Hall - Detroit's Music Hall talks to me. Seriously, I drive by the Music Hall every work day and it calls out to me (though an outdoor speaker system). There is music and dialogue emanating from speakers on the side of the building, and a marquee sign that informs you about what is going on at the Music Hall. It's a lively place before you even enter. It has two performance areas: one where you can view everything from the National Acrobats of China to Flamenco dance troupes (the main stage), and another where you can hear the latest rising Jazz stars or the hilarious Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim (the Jazz Café).

Artists' Mainstays - There are certain mainstays of the contemporary art scene that have inspired art enthusiasts for decades. Since 1907, the Scarab Club cultivated and attracted the foremost figures in the art world (it keeps an ongoing record of some of the luminaries that visit: the signatures of Marcel Duchamp, Diego Rivera, Norman Rockwell, Julian Force, and John Sinclair, among others, are on a ceiling beam on the second floor). Here you can discover spoken word poetry, high caliber juried shows, and studio tours of some of the top area artists. Nearby you can see juried shows that include the DAM Unmentionables show, the DAM Boxes show, the DAM Small(er) show, and the DAM Design show, and other annual and biennial shows at the Detroit Artists Market. DAM has influenced Detroit's arts and culture since 1932. While the Scarab Club and DAM showcase artists that experiment with materials and subject matter, they are still the best venues to find work steeped in traditional painting techniques.

This is a curt introduction to Detroit's cultural institutions (it's the nature of blogs... you have to be concise and move on quickly). Again and again, these institutions remind us why culture is important and how it enriches our souls. I've never left any one of these institutions tired or disenchanted. I leave these institutions talking a mile a minute ("remember when... did you see the... Wow, can you believe...!"), and I leave inspired to see more, to listen more, and to write more (so stay tuned).