Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts, known affectionately as the DIA, is a world-renowned art museum. Founded in 1885 as the Detroit Museum of Art by prominent Detroit citizens such as James E. Scripps, D.M. Ferry and James McMillan, the museum debuted on September 1, 1888 in a building on Jefferson Avenue. In 1927 the museum opened in its current location on Woodward Avenue, just north of Warren Avenue. William Valentiner was the first museum director, presiding over the one-story, modified Italian Renaissance style building with its many period rooms.

Since then, the museum has undergone several expansions: a south wing in 1961 and a north wing in 1971, by architect Gunnar Birkerts; and an eight-year-long project begun in 1999 that added 35,000 feet and created a new vision for museum presentation, focused on a “visitor-centered approach.” 

The DIA has over 65,000 works, including an extensive American art collection. It contains art from all over the world, spanning centuries, including Ancient, Asian, African, Oceanic, Native American and Islamic works as well as contemporary and modern art. Most notable among the museum’s collection is Detroit Industry, the Diego Rivera mural created in 1932-33. The museum also became the first in the United States to own a Van Gogh work, Self-Portrait. The DIA is one of the first major museums to curate a department devoted to African American art, the General Motors Center for African American Art.

Opened as a nonprofit, the museum became a city department in 1919, then in 2014, as a result of Detroit’s bankruptcy, returned to its independent non-profit status. Today, the DIA encompasses 658,000 square feet with more than 100 galleries, a reference library, a conservation laboratory, meeting and lecture spaces and is a popular gathering place during Friday Night Live events. Its 1,200-seat theater, historically restored, has hosted the well-respected Detroit Film Theatre for close to 50 years. 



Detroit Institute of Arts postcard

Photo postcard depicting Kresge Court at the DIA, c.1940 – 2012.020.030

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