Cultural Living Room

Detroit Institute of Arts

Funding Received: 2012
Detroit, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 12, 2013

This July, ArtPlace connected with Bradford Frost at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) to reflect on the official openings the museum’s ArtPlace project, The Cultural Living Room. This month we talked about the launch and initial results of the project.

ARTPLACE: Bring us up to speed on the public reaction since your June Launch?

FROST: It’s been incredible rewarding. We had such a strong initial outpouring of support, press mentions and overall feedback from the community that many have noted that this transformation in Kresge Court was “a long time coming.”

For a look at press stories, just click here. One article summed it up best I thought, when they said “The Kresge Court café feels like a dream.”

It was a fitting tribute to our work on an extensive design process that partnered with exceptional partners like NBS Commercial Interiors, The Detroit Creative Corridor Center, CultureSource, Patrick Thompson Design and Midtown Detroit Inc. Each partner brought deep skill and critical networks to our success.

And, in many respects, the transformation, now just feels so logical and coherent with the overall museum experience. It’s been unbelievably satisfying though how many people now come once a week or so for coffee or to grab a meeting with a colleague.  The barrier busting idea that this is a place to come frequently really seems to be seeping into the local scene.

ARTPLACE: What indicators are informing that view?

FROST: Results. Results. Results.

Most tellingly, we have had an astronomical growth in our DIA Kresge Court Café Sales. In the first three weeks alone, comparing these sales figures to last year in Kresge has yielded over 500% growth in sales. And, this growth has taken effect during one of the museum’s slower months annually.

Our social media responses have been overwhelming as well. Several months ago, we reported that the proposed changes caused quite a stir and anxiety among our 225,000 plus facebook followers.  Not only have local residents, students and professionals been posting regularly about spending time in Kresge Court, but our initial post about the space had over 1200 likes, 65 comments and 185 shares.  Most importantly, not a single comment complained about the space or the changes, despite the angst our announcement caused in April.

Internally too, for the museum staff are passionate about the space, it’s been wonderfully getting side comments about what an incredible job we did and how the transformation far exceeded initial expectations.  That pride and celebration of the space has dividends with the way staff now enjoy the space and have meetings there as well.

It’s still early, but we’re thrilled with the feedback and results thus far.  Small tweaks will emerge – we’re adding a “Concierge” sign to ensure patrons know that post isn’t merely “information.” And, the high demand has allowed us to move up our beverage and coffee services during all museum hours. When we’re working on such detailed refinements, we know the overall strategy has been extremely well received.

ARTPLACE: And it looks like your Outdoor Launch was a hit too?

FROST: It was! We had a very special grand opening party for the DIA’s South Lawn portion of the ArtPlace project. Five food truck vendors joined the festivities, which, for a usually quiet holiday weekend (July 4th) at the museum, had 950 attend the 2 set-concert.  Our new seating area was used by our museum studio team to facilitate family art making classes.

At a debrief session a few days later, we again were very pleased with the results, and with a few small tweaks – a slightly later start time in August to avoid overheating our guests, that we would be thrilled with the turn-out and overall vibrancy of the evening.

You know what was also very memorable about it? There were almost 1,000 people outside watching these shows and I snuck in briefly to find that Kresge Court was full too.

ARTPLACE: Any final reflections?

FROST: It was extremely gratifying seeing all of the team’s efforts come to fruition and to see how our vision got executed. In many ways, it was very challenging to pull off – but in so many more, it was such a powerful expression of how innovative partnerships and collaborative design processes can yield extraordinary results for our visitors, neighbors and the city at large.

Thanks goes to ArtPlace for all of its support in that process as well. Your team bought into our vision with an incredible grant and you helped us take the space and time we needed to deliver on that vision. And, it truly looks like we’ve increased the vibrancy of the museum and the area as a result.

Hopefully that trend continues.