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ArtPlace recently touched based with Bradford Frost at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) about the Cultural Living Room, a project to activate and transform two underutilized spaces in the museum – the DIA’s front lawn and its historic Kresge Court.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date?

FROST: Well, that really depends on who you ask.

From my chair, a transformation ensures conflicting demands with traditional ways of working and using these special museum spaces. We’ve worked through that process at an organizational level to try and address the angst and even some of the resistance to the proposed changes.

At the end of the day, everyone just wants a great museum to serve the needs of our visitors—from our most dedicated patrons to those coming to the DIA for the first time. But, like a wise person once said, the devil’s in the details.

As for the thorniest issue(s), they are those pointy sticking points in the change process. They reveal the boundaries of negotiation where competing stakeholders find they are willing to embrace, or at least accept, the change ahead.

Perhaps one thorn stands out among the rest: will the new space have the ability to support dinner for 60 or more quests for a private dinner?

More time and energy went into this rather discrete question than almost any other.

ARTPLACE: How have you dealt with it?

FROST: Behind that question were a range of concerns – from the perfectly reasonable to the outright hyperboles of conjecture – about the impact of changing the space from a flexible footprint that could accommodate as many as 200 dinner patrons in classic 8-10 top rounds for a private event to the limits of similar activities with a fixed seating concept centered around daily users.

That change prompted concerns about losing significant fundraising capabilities for in Kresge Court, in addition to hosting flexible performance seating, other private functions as well. Moving from these uses as priority in the space to a fierce focus on general daily use brought far ranging fears to the surface, that, as a genuine public use ethos took priority, somehow we might encourage the local homeless population to use Kresge as a resting station.

Sure, I guess anything is possible. But these types of fears were more about trying to preserve some capability behind those traditional uses during off-hours when private functions could still be imagined in the space. They would just have to accept that the new capacity for such events would be substantially smaller.

60 was the number we settled on.

Design after design, we poured over the seating to imagine how and where in the space a private dinner for 60 guests could be used while retaining the overall intent of the new floor plan.

We settled on the top and left sections of the design (the southern and eastern parts of the room) as the optimal space to put such a dinner and imagined reinforcing it with some additional tables and seating that would match the new pieces in the event 4 or 8 more places were all that were necessary for a dinner in Kresge Court.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it retains the possibility for those events to take place in Kresge Court while maintaining the new layout.

It can seem trivial in the end, but that’s how it goes in the design process. Certain issues seem like they should be simple to solve, but clearly, it is not always so.

ARTPLACE: So, can we get a peek at the design?

FROST: Yes! I’ll even explain it and provide more detail in January! Until then, just a peak at the conceptual rendering (and the fact that 60 people could dine in the top and left portions of course):

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