Thursday, June 17, 2010


During today’s All Staff meeting, Graham was asked a question about how the DIA ranks, nationally. It has often been said that the DIA is one of the top 6 museums in the country.

I have always thought this was an odd phrase—that we aren’t quite in the top five, but we’re better than museums 7-10, so saying we were in the “top ten” didn’t do us enough justice.

To me, it indicated that we were the 6th best museum in the country, on a list of what I imagined to be 100 or so museums.

Not surprisingly, I was wrong.

The DIA is classified as a “universal museum” because our collection spans all space and time. There are 6 “top” universal museums in the country and they are: The Met, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and of course, The Detroit Institute of Arts.

Other museums like The MoMA or the National Gallery are excluded because they are not universal.

These 6 universal museums are not usually ranked, but when they are, it’s on a bias. If you like Impressionist art, then Chicago is #1… but if you like European Art, then the DIA is probably #1, and so on.

Thus, the clout in this phrase is really that we are among the six (as there are only six) best universal museums in the country.

I suppose one could liken it to being a “Big Ten” school—there isn’t School #1 or School #2—they’re all just in the Big Ten.

Actually, that might be a terrible reference. Once football or basketball season takes off, they are very clearly ranked.

Maybe it’s more like American Idol, once contestants reach the top 12 or top 5. Within that group, no one is individually ranked, but they are each one of the 12 best singers in the country.

I wonder if Simon Cowell has ever been to the DIA…

All Staff Meeting

Today I had to be at the museum before 9:00.  I kind of hate being anywhere before 9:00 but it turned out to be well worth the trouble.  It was the All Staff Meeting!

More than 100 DIA employees gathered in the auditorium (which I had never seen before, but is very nice!) to hear the Director and various other managers discuss projects and initiatives within the museum.  I asked how often All Staff Meetings occur and was told that they try to have them quarterly, but that's not always the case.  Either way, I was pleased to be present for this one.

Perimeter Heating Project: Elliott, Museum Operations

We are now in Phase II of the perimeter heating project (I must have missed Phase I), which involved closing a number of galleries on the second floor for repairs to the heating system. Last winter, some galleries with exterior walls had NO heat beyond the forced air system (I don't know enough about heating and cooling to tell you why we need more than forced air heat, but apparently we do). Fortunately, last winter was mild enough that there were few to no complaints from visitors, and of course, the artwork was unharmed.

Elliott, from Operations, attempted to list the second floor galleries that would be closing but admitted to not knowing the official gallery numbers. At this point, he asked for some “audience participation”, saying that he would tell us what is in each gallery, and someone in the audience should yell out the gallery number. It went something like this:

“It’s that gallery with the painting on the ceiling…”
“W 234!”
“It’s got that piece of furniture with all the inlaid stone… umm… it also has The Wedding Dance…”
“W 230!!” “BINGO!!
Ok, nobody yelled out “Bingo”, but I think it would have been appropriate.

After Gallery Number Bingo, Director Graham Beal talked about some stuff that was not on the agenda, but proved to be pretty interesting.

New AAMD Environmental Standards: Graham Beal, Director

The AAMD has decided to relax its environmental standards for galleries. The gold standard for relative humidity levels in the galleries was generally between 40% to 50%. Yet, for various reasons, the range of acceptable RH has been expanded to 40% to 60%.

 I did some quick Internet research and it seems like most museums were already doing this anyway. But now the AAMD is making this the official standard, which really only changes one thing; loans. As Graham explained it, some museums were having trouble acquiring loans because when they would submit a facilities report, their hygrothermograph output would read 56% or something that the loaning institution would find unacceptable. Graham even told stories of institutions submitting a blank hygrothermograph output sheet with a ruled pencil line drawn through the whole thing at 45%. In other words, some museums, desperate for loans, would forge their RH reports. Seriously?

The other benefits of this greater flexibility are that it saves the museum some money, reduces energy consumption and carbon footprints, and generally streamlines the loan process (so people can stop lying!).

Apparently it has been suggested for a while that most works of art will not sustain damage from incremental RH fluctuations, and can thus withstand a greater range. My peers that watched “The Rape of Europa” with me last semester can attest that many works of art that hung out in caves, barns, and other locations without climate control for the duration of WWII were returned to the museums without much (or any) damage. I am not suggesting that galleries be converted to reflect the barn environment in the name of reducing our carbon footprint, but I can certainly see the merit to allowing RH to reach 60% +/- 3.

Graham also noted that it is extremely difficult to retain a consistent RH % in the Midwest (especially in those dry winter months). So this change in the standards will end up saving the DIA quite a bit of money. In the winter the DIA will heat the museum less, thus reducing the need to add humidity to the air; and in the summer we will cool the museum less, thus reducing the need to remove humidity from the air.

During this briefing, a representative from the conservation or registration department stood up and assured the crowd that the collections were not being put at risk in any way by this change and that there simply won’t be much difference to the state collections.

To prove that I’m not making these numbers up, here are some articles I found about the change:

And if any of my information is way off base, I certainly hope that my newest reader, Dixie, will set me straight.

Millage Campaign: Annmarie, Executive Vice President

I mentioned before that the DIA plans to launch a millage campaign in an effort to establish a more stable source of funding for the museum and that the initial poll results for the campaign were overwhelmingly positive.

Today, Annmarie presented a more detailed account of the poll results, which I found very interesting. I was asked not to share the details of the results, but I will discuss one thing that struck me about the poll and that was how many people reported a very positive image of the DIA. In one question, people were asked “Who goes to the DIA” and the common response was “Everyone”. I found this to be so encouraging. In a previous post, I said myself that I recognize museums (art museums, in particular) as having to struggle with that public perception of elitism. I think this just speaks to how many things the DIA is doing RIGHT. There are a lot of words that describe the City of Detroit (resilient, soulful, diverse, historic…) but I don’t think “elite” is one of them. Which is why I was so struck by the apparent perception of the DIA as being the people’s museum—a place where everyone goes. I think that this is a perception that most (all?) museums strive for and I am just so happy to see the community embrace the DIA as their own, just as I have for so many years.

But then again, I claimed ownership of Lake St. Clair when I was in preschool so I’m not sure I’m the best barometer of the community’s investment.  I get attached easily.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"I think we've got something here..."

That's what Larry said when he saw everyone's reaction to our sample repro of Watson and the Shark.

People were coming from all over the third floor to check it out.  Even Graham Beal stopped in for a moment to take it in.  I'm beginning to gather that he is a man of few words, but he looked impressed.

People were doing double-takes as they walked past the conference room and saw a framed replica of Watson, just sitting on the table.  The real painting is not on display at the moment, so several people thought we toted it up to the third floor for the afternoon.  That's how convincing it is.

Sharing this sample with the rest of the staff did a lot for our cause.  It really seemed to get everyone excited about the project and it may have even converted a few skeptics.

My iPhone photo doesn't quite do it justice, but what we have here is a very high quality reproduction of one of the DIA's most well-known paintings.

I was so excited, I couldn't even wait for Larry to get out of the frame.  Hi Larry.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

5 Weeks in Review

At a little past the halfway point of my internship, I thought I would give a rundown of the projects with which I’m engaged.

1. AAMD Mapping

Project Summary:  I am compiling data about the DIA's outreach efforts or "partners", to be sent to the AAMD and turned into a map.  Partners can include schools, churches, colleges / universities, businesses, community / cultural organizations, senior groups, libraries, and youth groups.  Each partner will be represented by a colored dot on the map.  Maps zoom in and out to include multiple or individual states, counties, cities, or congressional districts.  Maps like this will be useful in millage and other funding campaigns to illustrate the museum's reach.

Department / Staff Collaboration:  Trickled down to Sandra from Graham Beal (Director).  Data has come from Lisa Rezin (Group Sales) and Jenny Angell (Student Tours).  I was told to meet with lots of other people, but Lisa and Jenny have proved to be biggest wealth of information.

Status:  I am making data compilations for Fiscal Years 08-09 and 09-10.  Each set of data has 4 components: Group Sales, School Tours, In-Classroom Visits, and Speakers Bureau.  08-09 has 3 of 4 and 09-10 has 2 of 4.  I am hoping to have all of the data entered by next week.

Favorite Elements:  Data entry can be mind numbing, but it's interesting to see (even before the map has been created) the areas that utilize the DIA the most.  I have been surprised by some of the results, so far.  Though, I am delighted about how many DPS visits the DIA has had in the last two fiscal years.

Challenges:  I had a lot of dead-end meetings before finding the people who had the information I needed.  Also, many (400+) schools on one list were without zip codes, so I had to look up each individual zip code for every school on that list.  That was less than riveting.  And data entry can be mind numbing.

Academic / Professional Relevance:  I have improved my skills with Microsoft Excel ten fold.  Other than that, I have found it interesting to see which programs touch people in different parts of Michigan (and beyond).  Mostly, this project has given me some insight into the kinds of groups a museum may cater to.  I also learned just how many commercial and corporate involvements museums have.  I think I was a bit naive to that before I saw all of the groups from the last two years and saw what a large percent of groups were corporate events.

2. Program Synopsis

Project Summary: Expanding the existing “Program Matrix” into a format that is more accessible and usable to new hires, development officers, grant writers, donors, and those wishing to learn more about the programs at the DIA. Each program is to be summarized into a one-page document that expresses the value of each program to the community and why these programs should continue to be supported.  At this point, I understand this to be a mostly internal document—in other words, while it will be distributed to donors and such, they will not be in card racks or generally available to the public.

Department / Staff Collaboration: Assigned by Sandra. Guidance from Jennifer Czajkowski (Education – Learning & Interpretation) and David Cherry (Grant Writer). My main resource is the Programs Matrix, compiled by Jennifer Czajkowski, Matt Frye (Marketing), and other staff involved in the Program Audit that took place before my arrival.

Status: 8 Synopsis sheets are complete. I hope to have 7 more done by July 9.

My Favorite Elements: Researching the programs gives me a more in-depth understanding of the programs at the museum. Making the case for their overall value and worthiness of funding allows me to think more critically about the program and what elements of the program are most important and relevant to the museum’s constituency.  I like looking at programs that I've never seen before and saying, "Is this any good?  And why?"  This also gives me an excuse to sit in on school tours and other programs (I love watching programs!) in order to form an opinion.  Spoiler alert: They're usually great.

Challenges: No such document has ever been created, beyond the Programs Matrix, thus I have very little to work with in terms of research material. A lot of my information comes from or even Google. When attempting to communicate the value of a program (many of which I have never seen), I often turn to websites like for “customer reviews” to see what visitors are saying about the programs.  I feel awkward bothering people (without a formal survey in my hand) and asking them for their opinions about a program, so I haven't done much of that.

Academic / Professional Relevance:  I think that being able to so closely examine the educational and public programs run by the DIA will provide me a great deal of insight when I am looking to design future programs.  This analysis has also taught me to ask questions of the programs like, "What need is this fulfilling?".  Programs are great, but unless they are filling an educational gap, or answering a call from the community, they are difficult to justify to funders and others outside of the museum.

3. 125th Anniversary

Project Summary:  (I think we might now be calling it "Art on the Move").  Based on a 2007 London project called "The Grand Tour", the purpose of this project is to place "fully submersible" reproductions of the DIA's masterpieces in surprising locations around the greater metro Detroit area.  The reproductions are weatherproof and will be mounted outside, in an effort to bring the DIA's collection to people who might not otherwise see it.

Department / Staff Collaboration:  Larry Baranski (Public Programs) is heading this project, and I am working closely with Michelle Hauske (Public Programs / Registration) to secure locations for the "paintings".

Status:  The sample is complete!  And it looks incredible.  Other than that, I would say the project is about 40% complete.  There is much work to be done and I doubt I will see any of the paintings installed before I leave.

Favorite Elements: Finding connections between the art and the community.  There is something of a tongue-in-cheek element to this project that I absolutely love.  The committee has attempted to match the theme of the artworks to their prospective locations.  For example, I already discussed Syria by the Sea at the old train station, but there are others, such as Watson and the Shark on the Nautical Mile or The Fruit Vendor in the Eastern Market.  I think it's going to look like the paintings escaped from the DIA and went home.

Challenges:  Lots of hoops, lots of delays, little time, little money.  Every time one thing gets settled, five more issues pop up.  Of all things, we actually have to get insured for this project... in case one of the paintings falls off the wall and hurts someone.  Little things like that take some of the initial excitement out of the project.

Academic / Professional Relevance: I've learned quite a lot about the DIA's collection.  I have also been in meetings with donors and witnessed the relationship between the funder and the museum.  As frustrating as it can be, I also see the value in experiencing the bureaucracy that can sometimes slow a project down.  It is encouraging to see the rest of the committee meet these challenges with grace and enthusiasm.  Overall, it has been extremely educational to watch a program like being realized.