Museums copy DIA’s program to take artwork outside

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Walk along Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway and you might think Bob Thompson’s “Blue Madonna” is missing from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

But no need to worry, the work is a reproduction from the DIA’s Inside|Out program, which is in its seventh season. Now, museums in Philadelphia, Miami and Akron, Ohio, are copying the DIA’s model to bring their art — normally inside — outside to parks, storefronts and historic sites.

“It’s really great because we’re engaging communities on their turf and helping them come to the museum to engage with our collection here,” says Gina Ciralli, Philadelphia Museum of Art Inside|Out manager. She says nearly 1,000 people visited the museum during three weekends with free admission for residents in communities with works on display.

The program also has increased engagement at Perez Art Museum Miami, which serves residents of Miami-Dade County, the third largest county in Florida.

“It’s been an impactful way to place ourselves in the line of sight of folks who weren’t necessarily feeling like the museum was theirs,” says deputy director Leann Standish, referring to residents who live far from PAMM. “When our collection is on display in their neighborhoods, it really has changed their opinion and relationship with the museum.”

Combined, 260 reproductions — ranging from Picasso to Andy Warhol and Claude Monet — are on display in four states. Pennsylvanians will even find a suit of armor in Coatesville.

“Coatesville has a very strong steel production history,” Ciralli says. “We thought putting the suit of armor there, even though it’s not made out of steel, would be a fun little wink to their industry.”

On Friday, the museums are coming together for an Instagram contest. Using the hashtag #InsideOutUSA, anyone who posts a photo of, or with, one of the installations will be entered in the competition that runs through June 12. Judges and prizes vary by location.

Instagrammer Conrad Benner will judge Philadelphia; the winning photo will appear on his Streets Dept blog and be displayed inside the museum. Photographer Angelo Merendino, known for his photo documentary “The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer,” will choose the Akron winner, who will receive a limited edition Inside|Out poster. The Miami museum staff will pick their winner, who gets an iPad mini 2 and free museum membership.

DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons will judge the photos taken at the 120 locations across Metro Detroit and Up North. The winner will receive a retired Inside|Out reproduction. It’s a special prize because “we don’t give them out,” says Inside|Out project manager Jillian Reese.

Reese says the program started in 2010, after the DIA’s Chief Operating Officer saw the National Gallery in London had done something similar. In celebration of the DIA’s 125th anniversary, the museum decided to copy the concept. The only problem: They didn’t include signage to indicate the works were productions.

Reese remembers a woman in Livonia frantically called the DIA, believing she found an original artwork. The DIA told her to rest assured — the painting was only a reproduction.

“She said, ‘Oh that’s such a great project! But hold on, I have to go because my husband is back at the park guarding the piece. We just wanted to make sure nothing happened to it,’ ” Reese says.

“We were like, ‘Wow, these little pieces of fake art are really making people sort of stop and look.’ It did exactly what the museum wanted it to.”

The Akron Art Museum has had challenges finding spaces for their modern and contemporary reproductions.

Take Chuck Close’s 1975 painting “Linda.”

“It’s over 8-feet tall, so we had to find a wall big enough to accommodate it,” says Akron’s Inside|Out coordinator Roza Maille. Where’d it end up? A Dunkin Donuts wall along a high-traffic road in Wallhaven. “It attracts a lot of eyes, and people are really responding to it,” says museum spokesman Dominic Caruso.

“There’s something powerful about seeing iconic artworks in person, and I think when you see them in unexpected places, it may cause you to think about them in a very different way,” says Victoria Rogers, Knight Foundation vice president of arts.

Knight awarded two-year grants to the museums, and Rogers says the foundation plans to invest an addition $2 million to launch Inside|Out in more cities. The program not only helps connect people to their city but also to their museum, she says.

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

Detroit #InsideOutUSA Instagram Meetup

What: Meet the DIA staff to get a map and hunt for the nine Inside|Out works in Eastern Market and the Dequindre Cut.

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday

Where: Wilkins Street Plaza (corner of Wilkins and Orleans streets)

Special promotion: Show your #InsideOutUSA photo at Detroit City Distillery (2462 Riopelle) and receive half off drinks.