The Art of Reconciliation: The Influence of the Black Community on the Detroit Institute of Arts

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Jillian Madeleine Kouayara
Major: Art History
Advisor: Dr. Kara Morrow and Dr. John Siewart (second reader)

Museums were created with a Eurocentric narrative that excluded the Black community from the space up until the twenty-first century. Now, the relationship between the museum and the community has shifted, urging for change in museums leadership, and accessibility. This thesis argues the positionality of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a foundationally White institution, in the predominantly Black city of Detroit. While museums across the country are learning to adapt to a new generation of museum goers, theDIAs history within Detroit suggests a more pressing need to serve their community. Therefore, it is essential to examine the nations shifting demographics, as well as Detroit’s, in order to understand the needs of the institution’s future audience. By analyzing the DIA from a theoretical approach, and other literature that discusses race within cultural institution’s, I argue that the museum’s positionality is informed by racism and bias within the museum’s leadership and various practices that could continue to hinder the museums sustainability as a primary source of cultural information.

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Name will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

34 thoughts on “The Art of Reconciliation: The Influence of the Black Community on the Detroit Institute of Arts”

  1. Congratulations, Jillian, on such an interesting and inspiring project! I’m so proud of all the work you’ve done!

  2. Jillian, have you seen any moves by museum institutions toward a more inclusive environment that you like?

    1. Hi Ben! I’ve been really pleased with how the DIA has been making efforts to include younger Generations of Black kids in tending to their creative side and introducing them to the art and museum world. For example, they started the Young Curators program in 2018 where they had a group of teens (ages 11-14) which was a collaboration with Mack Alive, a community organization on Detroit’s east side, that mentored the participants as they learned more about the curatorial world!

  3. Congratulations Jillian, I’m so proud of you!!! I really enjoyed reading your presentation, what made you choose your topic?

    1. Aw thank you so much Cam! I chose this topic because I’ve always loved going to the DIA and i love my city, and both have such an interesting connection that is very relevant to the topic of inclusiveness, race, and economic futures of museums today!

  4. Congrats, Jillian! I have not been able to make it to the DIA in a while, but I was wondering if they have admission pricing policies in place that make it more accessible to the community?

    1. Hi Emma! Thank you so much! They do, but mainly for Wayne County residents and/or students who get free admission to the space.

      1. This makes me wonder, do you see the need to present ID to get free admission at the DIA as something akin to rigorous ID checks (bound by the need for an address) that result in voter suppression?

        1. Professor Morrow posed a very similar question during the research process! I love thé idea of making the space accessible and free to Detroit residents, but with identification i think it does intimidate those who do not have the proper ID. I think that’s the next step that they will need to consider in terms of accessibility.

  5. Amazing work Jill! I’ve loved seeing you work over the last few months and am so excited to see everything you do in the future because I know it’s going to be amazing!! Xo pipes

  6. Great job! The DIA is my favorite place to go when I am home so it was great to read your research.

  7. Thank you for sharing your research. Did you come across any art museums that you felt were doing a good job in representation and exhibit design?

    1. Although my thesis only focused on the DIA therefore my research on other museums is fairly limited, I did research some other museums accessibility through my other classes and one museum that is doing a great job is the LACMA. Like all museums they needed to pivot during COVID and stay accessible and tangible through a virtual lens. They made their site accessible for the hearing impaired as well!

  8. Awesome work, Jillian! It is so fun to read about your IS – thank you for sharing your work!

  9. Jillian! Incredible work on such an important topic. How do you see your research influencing you career?

    1. I see my research influencing my career through a creative lens, and also thinking about the next generation and how important inclusiveness is!

  10. Jillian, thanks for sharing such an important project with us. Congrats on a job well done!

    1. Aw thanks Sam! Haha weird to think that i got into Cincys biomedical program, a lot can change in 4 years!

  11. I found this project to be particularly interesting, especially given that, at least in my experience, the general population tends not to be critical of the information presented to them in museums. Your title caught my eye, too! I would love to hear more about how, if at all, theories and approaches of reconciliation (ranging from retributive to restorative justice) informed your research? I come from a political science background so forgive me if those theories don’t necessarily apply here! Thank you for sharing such an informative and important project. Congratulations!

    1. Hi Emily! Thank you so much! I only really used Bourdieus theory and the idea of post modernism in my thesis, however I still could not go super into depth without entering a completely new topic! But I would say that Bourdieus theory was especially helpful because it helps think about culture and art from a theoretical approach and it can explain how society manipulate those spaces as well.

      1. Totally understand! I think the use of Bourdieu’s theory is especially useful here and it is great how you used it. Thanks so much for sharing and I wish you all the best in your future!

  12. As a frequent visitor of the DIA, it is always interesting and important to think critically about the institution I am patronizing. Thank you so much for sharing your research Jillian and congrats on finishing:-)

  13. Congratulations on a job well done, Jillian! Such an important and fascinating topic! I am so proud of you!

  14. Jillian, this is such a fantastic project. You have put so much work into your IS and your critically engaged scholarship demonstrates your commitment to considering how systems of power impact the way we consume art and museum spaces as well as the implications of institutional leadership as it relates to community. I’ve loved getting to learn about your project along the way and am so proud of you. You’re amazing. Thank you for inspiring me as a researcher and as a friend.

  15. Congratulations, Jillian! This is just as impressive as when you told me about your ideas on my campus tour your sophomore year. You should be so proud!

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