Detroit's Carr Center launches revolutionary online platform

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Detroit's Carr Center is about to blow your mind.

At noon Friday, the venerable African-American cultural center and gallery will unveil its answer to COVID-19 on its YouTube channel with a tour of its brand-new Carr Virtual Center, a dazzling online platform with multiple dimensions that's way jazzier than most of what you'll find out there. And the public is invited.

Almost every cultural institution worldwide, of course, is wrestling with the same dilemma: How do you hold onto audience during a pandemic, when so many are avoiding interior spaces?

Mostly the answer has been to shift activities online, but results have been uneven, better in some cases than others. Carr unabashedly ups the ante with its virtual space, designed by a half-dozen present and former students at the U-Mich Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Design, who donated their time pro-bono.

"When you think about community-based organizations," said Carr President Oliver Ragsdale Jr., "you don’t think about projects like this. You haven't seen anything like this at the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Met. This is what you can do when you have the resources," he added, "and we had the University of Michigan."

So what will you find when you enter the Virtual Center? You'll be able to "walk" through four different galleries, each with a distinct digital personality, or check out concert videos and films in the Performance Space.

The Carr Virtual Center, which launches Friday, ups the ante in the competition between cultural institutions for a compelling online presence.

If you're confused at how to maneuver around, the Virtual Center comes with its own little docents -- amusingly rendered humanoids, including a little Martian and a surprisingly charming cyclops -- eager to assist.

“They basically tell you how to use each of the galleries," said one of the students in the Taubman College Public Design Corps, Ishan Pal Singh. "You click them to start the narration and click to switch it off."

Curious about a work of art in one of the galleries? Click on it and you'll bring up background information and context.

Exhilarated after your tour, and just dying to share the experience with somebody? Head to the Cafe, where you'll be able to have real-time, Zoom-style conversations with other patrons. 

It all amounts to a powerful dose of creative disruption.

"I like to use the parallel of what 'Black Panther' did as a movie," Ragsdale said. "This could have similar impact. We’ll be able to do field trips, lectures, concerts and show films."

U-Mich architecture students employed actual elements from the Park Shelton where Carr Center Contemporary gallery has its home in their virtual design -- including the handsome arch at center in "The Lobby."

But don't take all this razzmatazz to mean Carr Center Contemporary, the gallery in the Park Shelton by the DIA, is closed. It will open Friday afternoon with a new exhibition, "So Carr, So Good" which will give a peek into the creative design process behind the new platform and the students who created it.

While "So Carr, So Good" is at the physical gallery, the Virtual Center will be hosting "Reimagining: Rock My Soul," a reprise of the exhibition on Black influence over rock-and-roll that Carr developed with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 10 years ago.

All in all, pulling together The Carr Virtual Center took about three months of intensive teamwork and design. Given the complexity involved, you could be forgiven for thinking it must have been a grueling process.

"It was actually easier than I thought it would be," said Erin Falker-Obichigha, Carr curator and senior creative director. "We really didn't know how to do this. We were lucky that our friends at Taubman thought of us when starting their Public Design Corps."

Launch: The Carr Virtual Center

Noon - Friday

On the Carr's YouTube channel - click here to attend

(313) 815-6410

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy