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Detroit Museum Struggles to Maintain Identity, Attract New Art Lovers

The Detroit Institute of Arts completed a six-year, $158 million makeover in 2007, including the addition of interactive exhibits and a spotlight on local artists. Jeffrey Brown reports on the new efforts to attract visitors and survive amid state economic woes.

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    Next, hard times in Michigan, and a shot at an arts renewal. Jeffrey Brown has our report.

  • CHILD:

    I open my mouth to roar.


    When you think of an animal that roars, what animal do you think of?


    A lion.


    A lion.


    At the Detroit Institute of the Arts recently, children played a new game, "I Spy the Artwork."

    In another gallery at the DIA, as it's called here, a different group of kids experienced the art of dining, 18th-century style, enjoying via video a suckling pig, while learning how the actual objects in the gallery — the centerpiece and candlesticks, for example — were used in real life.

    Everywhere you look in what's being touted as the new DIA, there's an effort to engage and entice the visitor. It's an experiment in which a grand but struggling museum tries to survive in a troubled city.

    Graham Beal, a British art historian who's worked in American museums for several decades, is the director of the DIA.

    GRAHAM BEAL, Director, Detroit Institute of Arts: The people come to us with very high expectations of the kind of uplifting experience we have to — they want. We have to meet that, if not exceed it.


    The museum was born amid Detroit's boom era. The original building dates to 1927, when the auto industry provided the city millions of jobs and the dollars to import masterworks from abroad.

    But with the racial explosions of the 1960s and a decades-long economic decline, the DIA has struggled along with its city, losing visitors, funding, even hours when it was open.


    Welcome to the new DIA. It's time to let yourself go.

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