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Divided Region Meshes At Museum

Bridging the long-standing divide between Detroit and its suburbs often requires providing something of a lure. That’s the thinking at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where officials say Detroiters and suburbanites have mingled of their own accord for decades. Now the DIA is extending that cooperative spirit beyond the museum’s confines as well. Under high-vaulted ceilings at a hall in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Jaimie Saputo Freistadt guides her two young children past glass cases filled with glittering armor and swords. Saputo-Freistadt said she drove to Detroit from Highland Township for both an educational experience and a trip down Memory Lane. She said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. But coming back it’s been great. Very interested in the medieval stuff, probably because it brings back memories of being here when I was my kids age. Coming here with school, walking through here and seeing some of the same stuff and it still looks great.” The remnants of past civilizations and artistic expression can cross generational AND regional borders, said entrepreneur Marc Schwartz. He moved to Birmingham after finishing college in the late 1970’s. His parents introduced him to art as a birthday present, and it quickly became a part of his DNA. Now a member of the DIA Board of Directors, Schwartz said he’s something of a living link between the Detroit he sees in the museum and the memories he finds some of his neighbors in Birmingham still possess. “I do believe that the majority of people that live in Metro Detroit fled to the suburbs before, during, right after the riot, and have found that they have been able to have full lives living in the suburbs and not crossing into the city. At this point, one or two or three generations later, it’s just not on the radar screen,” Schwartz said. The way to make Detroit reappear on their screen, Schwartz maintains, is to follow the marketing theory he uses as an entrepreneur – and better expose the product. “I think to some extent you’ve got to bring it to them so they know what’s there and hopefully they’ll follow in. One of the programs called Inside Out where the DIA has reproduced, now I think we’re up to almost 80 of the DIA images, and if they see the reproduction and they’re moved by it, which they should be, they’ll want to come down here and see the real thing. Think you have to bring it to there and then give them the incentive to come down.” The DIA is stationing the reproduced art works in a few dozen communities scattered around a 60-mile radius of the museum. The DIA’s Director of Public Programs – Larry Baranski – says the reproductions create the same effect he’s seen inside the museum during his nearly four decades as an employee – a space where racism and regionalism don’t seem to exist. He said, “It’s a third perspective. And it’s a ground that people feel more comfortable crossing over into. We’ve always had good attendance for our programs from suburbs, from within the city. And so it’s always throughout the decades has been the exception.” Baranski acknowledges the regional division Board member Marc Schwartz sometimes sees in Birmingham still exists outside the museum. He said sometimes it even exists to an extent within the melting pot of people touring the museum. Part of Baranski’s job is to gauge audience reaction to exhibits, which he said tend to fall into two categories. “There’s the ones that look at how Detroit’s changed over the years and, y’know, there’s a sadness associated with it. They don’t want to go there, they don’t want to have to deal with that loss of what once was. And then there’s the ones that stare that in the face and say, it once was, it can be again. And we continue to have very strong audiences that are drawn from all the suburbs.” Baranski said the very presence of those audience members bear witness to people willing to cross regional boundaries in search of a shared experience. He notes that leaders throughout Metro Detroit search for regionalism as if it is some elusive Holy Grail. But he said all those officials need do is look around the floors of the DIA – where he says curiosity and appreciation for the arts have always brought people from all of Metro Detroit together.