Detroit arts leaders face funding, outreach challenges

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit— Museum leaders stressed the city’s arts and culture scene are underfunded, need more promotion and accessibility and remain essential to Detroit’s revival.

During a panel discussion Thursday, they said the city’s museums would have more visitors if the parking improved and there was a regional transit system.

“The arts ... they are woefully underfunded,” said Juanita Moore, president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. “That is not an area where, even as a country, we put a lot of resources.”

Moore was joined on the panel at a Pancakes & Politics event at the Detroit Athletic Club by Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the Detroit Institute of Arts; Ron Kagan, CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society; and George N’Namdi, founder and president of the Center for Contemporary Art.

They each talked about the barriers that have limited their growth and how they must do more to attract millenials.

Moore said Charles H. Wright has struggled to keep its doors open with little access to federal dollars and funding cuts from General Motors Co., Chrysler and the city of Detroit.

The museum stepped up its programming and made staffing cuts to stay afloat. In recent years, the city began funding Charles H. Wright again, with its contribution making up 27 percent of the museum’s budget, Moore said.

Panelists also agreed the arts scene doesn’t get enough publicity in Detroit.

“We don’t promote ourselves as much as we should,” N’Namdi said. The arts and culture scene, N’Namdi added, is what makes the city unique.

“The authenticity that we have, we must try to maintain that,” N’Namdi said. “Because that’s really why (people) stay. Other than that, you might as well go to any other city in the USA.”

The Detroit Zoo and DIA receive funding from tri-county millages.

While voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties continue to fund both landmarks, they voted against a 20-year, $4.6 billion regional transit millage last year.

Kagan said a regional transit system would allow thousands more children to visit the Detroit Zoo.

“There are so many people that can’t come to various cultural amenities in the region because they don’t have easy access to vehicles and transportation,” Kagan said.

Karen Chappelle, who moved to Detroit from Los Angeles last year, said she attended Thursday’s forum because she wants to be a part of the city’s arts scene. She said she wants to see more partnerships with cultural events, museums and local organizations. She grew up in the city and moved away in 1976.

“This isn’t the Detroit that I left,” Chappelle said. “It is more vibrant, it’s artistically alive, it’s totally a cultural renaissance.”

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry