Detroit's Cultural Center to get free outdoor Wi-Fi

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit’s Cultural Center will receive free outdoor public Wi-Fi in 2021, with access available as early as this spring.

The effort, part of the Detroit’s Cultural Center Planning Initiative, is expected to attract visitors to the area and encourage outdoor activities. It's funded largely through a $500,000 grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, officials announced Monday.

Free outdoor Wi-Fi will be installed in the area around the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The city's cultural center is in Midtown along Woodward Avenue and includes the Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Other institutions in the area include the Carr Center, Detroit Public Library, Hellenic Museum of Michigan, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit and the Michigan Science Center.

“Not only will this grant support the installation of free, public Wi-Fi in the district, it will also support collaboration, risk-taking, and experimentation within Detroit’s Cultural Center for place-based, digital transformation,” Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc. said in a statement Monday. Mosey has led the larger initiative for the last 18 months. 

According to a coverage map, the free Wi-Fi will cover an area bounded by Cass Avenue to the west, Brush Street to the east, Warren Avenue to the south and Ferry Street to the north. 

The Wi-Fi effort is in partnership with Wayne State University’s Computing and Information Technology Department and rootoftwo, LLC, an Ann Arbor-based design studio. It is intended to to be an extension of the university's existing campus system. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has provided additional funding support, officials said.

"Because we know that 2021 is still going to be a really tough year for everyone because of the pandemic, we're looking at to be a year of experimentation to see what works, what doesn't work," said Annmarie Borucki, director of arts and culture at Midtown Detroit. "And we know that we need to deliver on bringing more programming outside."

The digital strategy is part of the Detroit’s Cultural Center Planning Initiative launched in 2018 and involved an international competition among landscape architecture and urban design firms charged with helping reshape the city’s cultural center. 

Midtown Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts produced the competition which resulted in the design team, Agence Ter-Akoaki LLC, an international collaborative of designers led by Paris-based Agence Ter and Detroit-based Akoaki.

Planning work was delayed due to the pandemic, but continues, Boruski said. Fundraising is underway for the final phase of planning work, which she said should be complete by the summer.

"At the same time we still have tons of community engagement work to do around the planning," Borucki said. 

The funding from the Knight Foundation will support workshops focused creating new digital experiences and accompany small grants for area institutions to test ideas, officials said.

"The pandemic-related closures accelerated the way institutions were experimenting with digital technologies to engage audiences," said Cézanne Charles, partner at rootoftwo. "This grant allows us to build on those successes to develop additional capacity for the CCPI organizations while piloting compelling digital forms of creative expression, storytelling, and audience experiences in 2021 and beyond." 

Agence Ter-Akoaki LLC will share its research and design as well as solicit feedback from the public at

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN