1927 : Detroit Institute of the Arts Opens to the Public

October 7, 2021 all-day

Photo of Detroit Institute of Arts

Ground was broken on the new building on June 22, 1922. Ralph Booth turned the first spade full of dirt. The cornerstone was laid April 29, 1924.

“Our city has achieved first place in industry and an enviable place in wealth,” Booth said during the cornerstone ceremony. “We are here today to crown these accomplishments by laying the cornerstone of this building which shall testify that our true ambition is not mechanical production only. This but supplies the opportunity with which we shall gather around us the finer things to which we aspire, and give tangible evidence to the world that Detroit is a city of enlightenment and progress. Where we claim the best that civilization offers in order that our lives may be fuller, and richer, and contribute to the true betterment of future generations.”

The museum was not only growing but was evolving drastically from a collection of oddities to a renowned, internationally respected institute. Leading the changes was William Valentiner, known as the “father of the DIA,” who joined the museum as an adviser in 1921 and would serve as the director of the DIA from 1924 to 1945. Cret and Valentiner installed some of the newest acquisitions in the Jefferson building as a way to show Detroiters what was to come in the new building. It was Valentiner who oversaw the move to the new DIA -– and the abandonment of the 39-year-old Museum of Art. The castle on Jefferson served as the city’s art museum until it closed in July 1927, when all of its treasures were moved to the Detroit Institute of Arts on Woodward. The DIA opened at 8 p.m. Oct. 7, 1927.

Dan Austin, Detroit Museum of Art, HistoricDetroit.org

Mark Stryker, “DIA in peril: A look at the museum’s long, tangled relationship with Detroit politics and finance”, Detroit Free Press, September 8, 2013.

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