A Day at the DIA: 30 Americans

The Detroit Institute of Arts is without a doubt, a gem of the thinkercity. It’s iconic “The Thinker” sculpture looking over Woodward Avenue poses a man, deep in thought. Right now, more than ever, the art within its walls represents Detroit’s past, present and future. The permanent collection boasts world-renowned masterpieces grouped in thought provoking collections, and with literature on the walls, and guided tours.

The current exhibition entitled, “30 Americans,” is a collection of art from 30 contemporary American artists. What brings their art into a cohesive unit is the fact that these 30 Americans are African-Americans. According to the DIA website, their art expresses and explores, “identity, triumph, tragedy, pride, prejudice, humor and wit,” and based on my experience, I agree.

When I saw a Facebook posts about the new exhibition at the DIA, I was excited and interested. Take one look at my bio photo on this blog and you will notice one thing pretty quickly: I am white. Yet I felt that this would be an important collection to see. I have relatives and friends who, like me, are American, yet because of the color of their skin, have experienced America in a different way. I am always interested in learning about the ways that other people experience life, and I also happen to love art.

After looking at the dates of the show last fall [October 18, 2015- January 18, 2016] I immediately made a mental plan of attending for a birthday celebration with my husband ( so my birthday is in January, it is never too early to start planning, right?!).

DIASince I follow the DIA on both Instagram and Facebook (yes, I’m an art nerd), I was super excited to find out that there are a few dates where you can gain free entrance to the event (see above link for details). Rather than getting a babysitter, we decided to make a family-outing and bring our baby along on our date, one blustery Saturday in October.

A Few Things to Note Before Your Visit:

As soon as we parked however, we hit a snag. We forgot to pack the baby carrier. My husband offered to switch off holding our baby, which I appreciated, but it meant that our visit would probably be shorter than anticipated. When we entered the lobby, we were greeted with snag number two: the diaper bag we brought was too big according to current DIA policy. While I stood in line to pick up our tickets, my husband went to the coat check and came back with some happy news. Not only did the staff check the diaper bag, and offer a sturdy plastic sack to hold baby’s essentials, but they also checked out a small stroller to push around our wee one.

After a brief elevator ride to the second floor, and a short line in front of the exhibition hall, the museum docent shared a few things that made this exhibit unique.

  • photography is encouraged (no flash allowed)
  • social sharing is encouraged with the provided #30plusus and @diadetroit
  • an interactive audio guide is available to learn more about the artists, specific pieces, and to hear opinions of museum curators as well as area youth in reaction to the art.

Here are a few things I thought:

I loved the way one artist took classical ideas like a knight on a white horse, but instead of a knight, painted a modern black man in a red hoodie. The painting was huge, beautifully done, and awe inspiring. It made me think about why we always see the same people on horseback in paintings, and the inner-importance, and even the power that a ‘normal’ guy today has, even though he doesn’t normally wield a sword.

Another favorite was a collection of pieces that depicted one woman with a variety of hair styles. The art was not painted, but made of plastic gems and lacquer on boards. It made me think about my 17 year old cousin who has had her hair dyed blue, black, red, straightened, shaved,and tied in braids. As an emerging woman, she is exploring her identity, just like you and I did, but in her own way.

I don’t want to sugar coat it. Some of the pieces in this collection are really sad or at least sobering. Those that struck me, in particular, depicted the white caps of the Ku Klux Klan.

I stood in my tracks when I saw an enormous piece of stained carpet tacked onto the wall. It was the living room carpet from the artist’s grandmother’s house. I thought about how each stain was from a different family member, maybe a child being silly and knocking over a drink, a plate of food sliding from one’s hands at a large family gathering, or a million other possible experiences. It felt very powerful and very personal to me, and the funny thing about art, is that as I looked at it, I heard someone behind me say, “ugh, I don’t like that one. I think it is about slavery.” Hearing that woman’s reaction just shows one of the things I love about art– its meaning comes from the artist as well as your own experiences and feelings.

Most of the time, in current art, its not about what is pretty (thought it often is), but about how it makes you feel, or informs your understanding. So the best thing to do is go out there yourself.

This collection might be right for you if:

  1. You are looking for a date night, morning, or afternoon!
  2. You have a baby and need to get out of the house but don’t know where to go with him/her
  3. You are OK with your child seeing nude bodies
  4. You are OK with your child asking questions that might make you feel uncomfortable
  5. You have a teen. Take them. At the age where identity is so crucial, this will open doors to important conversations

As a new resident of the Detroit area, one of my favorite things is the diversity of the region. Everyone looks different, sounds different, and eats different food. I am so thankful for the opportunities my daughter will have to ask questions as she grows.

What Detroit locations bring out the best questions from your child?



  1. My favorite phrase in the article “one of the things I love about art– its meaning comes from the artist as well as your (the viewer) own experiences and feelings.” If I could get all my art students to understand that !


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