Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The DIA Today

Since our family was visiting Michigan this weekend, I braced myself at breakfast for reading the Detroit Free Press. I grew up reading this Motor City paper, and I expected to see most of its pages devoted to the Cerberus purchase of Daimler Chrysler. I was surprised to see a huge article about the massive makeover of the Detroit Institute of Arts in a last ditch effort to rescue it from debilitating financial problems.

According to the article, “The DIA, which once received $16 million a year in state funding, now gets just more than $1 million and hasn’t received anything this year because of a moratorium on arts grants. The museum has raised more than $300 million since 1997 in capital funds, but tens of millions of dollars—that otherwise could have generated income as part of the endowment—were needed to plug holes in the annual budget.” (The holes in the budget run between $12 million and $14 million per year, according to the article.)

On the drive home from Michigan, I read an article in The New York Times, mentioning the bestselling Dangerous Book for Boys and tying it to the concern over a decline in traditional play by today’s kids. We’ve heard all this before, ad nauseum. Of course kids need idle time—time to let their imagination wander and time with their families.

This article doesn’t make me feel guilty, because my children are consummate imaginative players. And when we go to Michigan, they disappear for hours with their cousins, inventing new games or climbing trees or just hanging out. However, in the eleven years that my children have been visiting the Detroit area, we have never visited the DIA. Even though we are museum supporters. Even though we are frequent visitors and members of Chicago’s museums.

There’s no excuse for never having taken our daughters to the DIA. Except laziness. And I suspect that’s why attendance is low at the DIA and the museum finds itself in such a precarious situation. Families are just too busy, and going to the museum is just another trip to make.

But I can vividly remember my first visit to the DIA and the impact it had on me. As a young girl, I went with my friend’s family, and on that lovely visit I saw the work of Diego Rivera for the first time—his huge fresco murals Detroit Industry rocked my world. It makes me sick that I haven’t brought my daughters to see this stunning room (zoom in for maximum effect).

So, it is the article about the DIA that makes me feel guilty. Wouldn’t it be nice, parents, if all we have to do to raise our parenting game is unplug the technology and kick the kids outside?

That’s too easy, I’m afraid. Please, get out there and take the kids to the museums. Have them invite a friend to come along. Field trips and vacations aren’t enough exposure. Kids need to go to their local museums, explore them, and get to know the treasures they house. That takes time and effort, and it’s not easy.

It's not just about our children. It's about our culture.


Johnny Yen said...

Detroit had more Rivera murals than any other city. I learned this in a great book about the Mexican muralists I'll have to lend you the next time I see you and Tim.

BTW, the Mexican muralists-- Rivera, Oroszco, Siquieros, etc. were huge influences on American artists-- in fact, the Treasury Department bought a lot of murals (not the WPA, as a lot of people assume) and then scrambled to find public places for them-- in post offices, frequently. The post offices on Irving and Southport, and the one on Broadway near Lawrence have a couple of these murals.

Johnny Yen said...

Adam, Jim Hampton (a friend from Eastern) and I are going to the Chicago Architecture Foundation's "Downtown Deco" tour this weekend. We should figure out some more things like that and get together with you guys.