Museum Life

IDEAS CITY Detroit Day 4: What’s the role of the museum in the postindustrial city?

Art City Terrain Midwest
(Audrey Wachs/AN)
(Audrey Wachs/AN)

What role can art museums play in revitalizing the postindustrial city? On Day 4 of IDEAS CITY Detroit, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCaD), spoke with fellows on the role of the museum in catalyzing neighborhood revitalization.

Founded by Marsha Miro in 2006, MOCaD sits in a turn-of-the-century former auto dealership off of Woodward in Midtown. Borowy-Reeder expounded on the challenges of running a contemporary art museum with no permanent collection in a “lightly rehabbed” space. “We don’t have proper HVAC, it is a very alternative, raw space. It’s not your typical museum by any stretch.” Pieces with stringent climate control requirements, consequently, cannot be exhibited in the space, but the museum deflects this deficit as an asset by bringing a broad range of Detroiters in to see art and by bringing art out to Detroit.

Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead in front of Mike Kelley's home (Corine Vermeulen via MOCaD)

Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead in front of Mike Kelley’s home (Corine Vermeulen via MOCaD)

One exterior wall is a mural space with rotating pieces; right now, New York–based artist Andrew Kuo’s work graces the facade. The most distinctive outreach component, though, is the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead, an off-the-rack mobile home that MOCaD uses to take art to the people. Named for a late influential local artist, the first floor is an exact replica of Kelley’s home. When not traveling, the first floor is used as the museum’s offices.

There are four upcoming spring and summer exhibitions. Artist Carlos Rolón will replicate his grandma’s house inside the mobile homestead for an exhibition opening this Sunday. His piece is an homage to his grandmother’s life and her Southside Chicago neighborhood: Rolón imported vintage furniture and an extensive macrame collection straight from his grandmother’s living room. (Borowy-Reeder: It was pitched to me as “balls-to-the-walls macrame.”) There will be a pop-up nail salon operating out of the home to service interested clients.

Borowy-Reeder mused on the questions that drive her, and MOCaD’s work: “How do you activate and expand the vocabulary of art? That’s what I hope MOCaD does. We try to be as much as possible artist-driven, we try to advocate for them internally and externally. Compared to other large institutions, I think we’re very artist-driven.”

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