For the Cranbrook Art Museum based in Bloomfield Hills, the motivation to move their focus downtown is partially spurred on by the rush of grant dollars flooding the Detroit arts scene.
In 2014, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the museum $150,000 for its “Nick Cave: Here Hear” project as part of the Knight Arts Challenge — a series of low-entry grants that require individuals, institutions and non-profit organizations awarded funds to match them within roughly a year of winning.
A requirement of the grant requires awardees to create programming that physically takes place in Detroit city limits or by directly benefiting its residents.
“I’d say it’s pretty pivotal” for the museum, says Andrew Blauvelt. Since 2015, he’s served as the director of the Cranbrook Art Museum. “(The Knight Arts Challenge)” opens up a different set of possibilities for a museum to be engaged in a different community.”
Since 2012, the Knight Foundation has invested $52 million into the arts infrastructure of metro Detroit including a $20-million investment spread across a host of cultural institutions that was announced in 2018. On Thursday, it opened the latest round of the challenge.
In total, the Cranbrook Art Museum has received $285,000 in funding from the Knight Arts Challenge since 2014 for a trio of projects including $75,000 for their most ambitious yet — the sprawling international exhibit “Landlord Colors” launching this June.
“We’re looking at five different art scenes around the world since the late 1960s that have experienced some kind of social or economic precarity or upheaval,” says Blauvelt. “There’s been many, unfortunately, but we landed on five and those include Detroit — contemporary Detroit, but also featuring some artists from post-1967” after the rebellion.
“Landlord Colors” will feature more than 60 artists and, in addition to Detroit, explore the cultural climate of the Italian avant-garde during the 1960s-1980s; authoritarian-ruled South Korea of the 1970s; Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s to the present; and contemporary Greece since the financial crisis of 2008.
It’ll be paired with “Material Detroit” — a sprawling series of public programs and performances around the city proper. It’ll be produced in partnership with Laura Mott, a senior curator at the Cranbrook Art Museum; Taylor Renee Aldridge, the founder of arts criticism publication ARTS.BLACK; and Ryan Myers-Johnson, the founder of Sidewalk Festival.
“A big part of the show is looking at how materials may influence artistic innovation and creativity,” says Blauvelt. “Some places like Detroit have an excess of material to use. Some places like Cuba have a scarcity of materials to use. That’s one of the premises we wanted to talk about — the way the social landscape informs art making but do it in a way that’s more artist-centric.”
In addition to the Knight Arts Challenge-funded projects, the Cranbrook Art Museum has routinely partnered with downtown Detroit art gallery Library Street Collective and real estate juggernaut Bedrock, who regularly underwrite large public art exhibits in buildings they own downtown.
In the past few years, the partnership has brought a retrospective Shepard Fairey exhibit to the museum as well as signage designed by acclaimed contemporary artist Ryan McGinness to a Tony Hawk-designed skate park in downtown Detroit. The most recent collaboration was “The Beach Detroit” — a traveling art exhibit designed by NY-based design firm Snarkitecture. (Snarkitecture partner and artist Daniel Arsham opened his own exhibition at the museum in conjunction with “The Beach Detroit.”)
Jennifer Gilbert, the wife of Bedrock’s Dan Gilbert, was named the Chair of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum Board of Governors in 2017.
“We don’t want to take our museum and put it downtown, but do we have to be bound by the walls here? Can we do projects elsewhere in the area?” asks Blauvelt, who also notes that there’s an increasing amount of Cranbrook alumni staying in the area after graduating — a trend he didn’t see when he was a student himself at Cranbrook in the 1980s.
“From the outside, the perspective on Detroit is that’s it’s a very interesting art scene,” says Blauvelt, “so why wouldn’t you want to be part of that?”
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