No trip to Detroit would be complete without a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts, our beloved historic art museum. The DIA’s encyclopedic collection is one of the country’s best, and its commitment to accessibility and art education makes it a true people’s institution.
The DIA is in walking distance of the El Moore, and we certainly encourage our guests to pay it a visit. But art enthusiasts and culture seekers will be interested to know that there are a number of smaller museums, galleries, and other art spaces that are as close, or closer, and that are also definitely worth checking out. (The official slogan of Midtown Detroit, after all, is “Where Life is Art.”) And while the DIA’s collection includes some notable work by Detroit artists, these smaller spaces offer more opportunities to encounter work made here, by the remarkably diverse and prolific artist community that calls Detroit home. Here’s a look at some of them:
MOCAD, which opened in 2006, is a non-collecting museum focused on contemporary art that is housed in a formerly vacant, early 20th century auto dealership.
Regular exhibitions showcasing the incredible variety of the contemporary scene include work by local, national, and international practitioners. MOCAD also offers a wide variety of programming, including concerts, lectures, and events for kids. Be sure to also check out Cafe 78 inside the museum for lunch, a cup of coffee, or a drink, and Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, a permanent installation behind the museum that hosts auxiliary shows and events.
A venerable Detroit institution, the Detroit Artists Market, or DAM, got started all the way back in 1932 as a way for local artists to exhibit and sell their work.
After decades of operating downtown in Harmonie Park, DAM moved to its Midtown location on Woodward in the early 2000s. Regular themed shows highlight a wide variety of work by DAM’S nearly 400 member artists, all of it for sale.
A Cass Corridor stalwart, Dell Pryor Gallery occupies the easternmost storefront of the long commercial strip that also houses Avalon International Breads, Goodwell’s, and Flo Boutique. (You can’t miss the building, with its fresh coat of yellow paint.)
The sign outside says “Spiral Collective,” a reference to the fact that the gallery used to share the cavernous space with businesses Source Bookseller and Textures by Nefertiti, both of which have since moved into their own spaces nearby. (Currently, the Dell Pryor shares the space with Tulani Rose, a “lifestyle gift boutique for the cool and conscious.”) Another gallery that made the move from Harmonie Park to the Midtown district in the early 2000s, Dell Pryor Gallery is operated by its namesake, a longtime patron and promoter of Detroit art, and exhibits and sells fine art by local and national artists.
When the Simone DeSousa Gallery (formerly Re:View Contemporary) opened in the Cass Corridor in 2008, it was something new in the neighborhood: a cozy yet contemporary storefront gallery with a big city feel that represented a select handful of local artists, but exhibited work by local, national, and international guest artists as well.
Since then, founder Simone DeSousa — an artist herself — has built a truly supportive and connected community around her space while continuing to curate intimate, thoughtful solo and group shows that are always worth checking out. (And stay tuned for more; just next week, she’s opening up Edition, which will be located right next to the gallery and which will sell limited editions of artworks that are, as DeSousa puts it, both collectible and accessible.)
It was a big deal for the neighborhood when George N’Namdi moved his successful, established gallery here from downtown Birmingham in 2010 as part of the development of the Sugar Hill Arts District, which continues to unfold.
N’Namdi’s primary (but not exclusive) focus is on work by African-American abstract artists, many from Detroit but also from around the country. The beautiful, expansive space he renovated houses two different galleries, as well as a retail space, performance space, movement center, and restaurant.
The newest kid on the gallery scene, Galerie Camille opened up alongside La Feria, the neighborhood’s one-of-kind tapas joint, in 2014 (though the gallery as an institution has existed since 1987).
Directed by Michigander-turned-New-Yorker-turned-Michigander Melannie Chard, Galerie Camille exhibits work in a variety of media by local, national, and international fine artists.
City Sculpture, about a five minute walk from the El Moore, is a culmination of sorts for longtime Detroit artist Robert Sestok.
Sestok is one of the original members of the storied Cass Corridor art movement, which burgeoned in the neighborhood in the ’60s and ’70s, and one of the few artists who never really left. His sculpture park, which opened just last year, provides a great, open-air opportunity to get to know his massive and mysterious abstract sculptures, fashioned out of the remnants of Detroit industry.
Don’t forget about Wayne State, our neighborhood research university, which has a thriving art school, two galleries, and its own remarkable collection of artwork, including public sculptures all over campus.
The two galleries are the Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, where you’ll find work by a variety of contemporary artists, and the Art Department Gallery, which typically showcases the work of faculty and students. If it’s the public sculpture you’re more interested in, visit WSU’s ArtWalk page to print a self-guided tour brochure or to schedule a group tour with a docent!
And finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Cass Cafe, a neighborhood staple that has a longstanding mission to serve up terrific local art along with their famous lentil burgers.
Regular group or solo shows leave the walls consistently covered in an astonishing variety of work by Detroit artists. Leave room in your suitcase, because all of it is for sale!
It struck us a little belatedly that we forgot to mention a couple key places in our original post, a testament to how populous the neighborhood art scene really is! We neglected to include the Ellen Kayrod Gallery inside Hannan House, which is dedicated to exhibiting the work of older artists (60+), as well as the College for Creative Studies, an art and design school in the neighborhood whose Center Galleries has been hosting local, national and international art and design exhibitions since the late 1980s.