The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is a 134-year old Detroit institution.
Founded in 1885, the DIA relocated to its present location in 1927.
Over 65,000 works of art, subdivided into 100 galleries, are spread throughout the 3-story, 658,000-square foot building, which, being made of white Montclair Danby marble streaked with gray veins from Vermont, exudes a very regal vibe.
Attached to the rear of the DIA is a beautiful 1,100-seat theater called the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT).
I’ve watched dozens of great films here over the years: Breathless, The Killing, Sweet Sweetback, Dolemite, Gimme Danger, etc.
Also behind the DIA, is the best place to park your car, the John R parking lot (5290 John R Street) where you can park all day for only $7.00 per car.
Walking around to the front, you’re greeted by a version of Rodin’s The Thinker, a 12,000-lb. bronze sculpture of a contemplating man lost in rapturous thought, which beautifully sets the tone for your DIA visit.
Once inside, you check in and pay the fee or, thanks to the tri-county millage (property tax), if you live in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb Counties, you can enter for free any time you want.
As you pour yourself into the uniquely shaped cup of the DIA with its vaulted ceilings and mesmerizing sweeps of grandeur, you are immediately absorbed into a quasi-alternate dimension of one of the greatest art museums in the United States.
Being at the DIA is very inspiring. You’re surrounded by gorgeous art and this immersion does something positive to your mood, attitude and thoughts.
Waltzing through grand hallways and great rooms, you encounter Egyptian mummies, Hindu sculptures, ancient Sumerian statues made of diorite, William Randolph Hearst’s collection of suits of armor, Diego Rivera’s entire room of Detroit Industry murals, and thousands upon thousands of paintings.
The paintings include Van Gogh’s 1887 Self-Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting ever purchased by an American museum, which the DIA smartly acquired at auction in 1922.
DIA Research Library & Archives: 191,000 Volumes on Tap
In the North Wing, on the 3rd floor, the Kirby Street side, lays one of the hidden gems of the museum, the DIA Research Library & Archives.
I myself was unaware of the existence of this incredible resource until a recent BCD tour, thanks to Frank Castronova, DIA functionary and president of The Book Club of Detroit.
The library is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment-only.
It consists of the lovely Reading Room (open to the public) with its row of skylights and book elevator (aka: 1970’s-era dumbwaiter) & the Mezzanine Stacks (closed to the public), a secret sub-level between floors 2 and 3 where thousands of books are held. People can discover and request materials from the stacks via the online catalog.
I’m here meeting with Maria Ketcham.
She is the Research Library, Archives & Collection Information Director and has graciously agreed to subject herself to a kaleidoscope of questions and give yet another tour.
“Here at the DIA Research Library & Archives, we have 191,000 volumes, 100 journal subscriptions, thousands of bound periodicals and auction catalogs, and 7,000 cubic feet of archival materials.”
“In comparison to other libraries worldwide, about 30% of our collection is considered rare or unique to our institution.”
“Some of our archival holdings include thousands of photographs, blueprints, slides, color transparencies, oral histories, recorded lectures dating back to the 1970s, the business papers of former directors & curators, and an amazing collection of reel to reel recordings of our LINES poetry series (1980-1991) and our Jazz at the Institute series (1977-1987).”
“Our most popular requests are for information on the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry murals, the For Modern Living (1949) Exhibition, and Dragged Mass (1971) Michael Heizer.”
“We also have thousands of Artist Files, which are manila file folders containing news articles, ephemera, small exhibition catalogs, anything less than 30 pages long, about a particular artist and are especially useful for research on local artists. These are in our online catalogue as well as in WorldCat, the world’s largest online network of libraries.”
“The Archives serves the museum as a repository for anything DIA-related that has enduring historic value. We’ve begun digitizing some of our archival materials and early DIA Bulletins, exhibition catalogues and finding aids, which can also be found in the DIA Research Library online catalog.”
“Some university professors bring their classes here on tours and we also represent at conferences and events.”
“On average, we get about 1,200-1,500 requests per year, mostly via phone or email from all over the world. Many researchers find us via WorldCat. And since this is a noncirculating reference collection, depending on the size of their request, we can often help researchers remotely, such as emailing them scans of relevant materials for their reference.”
“We get visitors from all over the world. We even hosted Japanese royalty when Princess Akiko from Japan visited last summer. We were very honored that she chose to spend some of her time at the DIA with us in the library.”
“Our library is in the top 10 largest museum libraries in the USA. The largest is the Getty Research Institute, which is the Getty Museum library. They have over 1 million books and 100 librarians. Some other large ones are The Met, Philadelphia, and Nelson Atkins.”
“I’m a native Detroiter. I grew up on the Northwest side near Joy and Southfield. A product of the Detroit Public School system, I attended Renaissance High School, then graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and later a Masters in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives.”
“Before coming to the DIA, I was an Archivist for Ford Motor Company. I used to live in the Alden Park Towers on the riverfront for several years. The “new Detroit” has changed drastically since I’ve lived here. It’s exhilarating.”
“I have a library family. My husband is a librarian at a local public library. My two sisters are also librarians. One is a children’s librarian in California. The other is a senior medical informationist at a university medical school.”
“I started working at the DIA in 2001 as the reference librarian. In 2003, I was laid off. Came back in 2005 and I’ve been here ever since.”
“I’m the only full-time employee overseeing the Research Library & Archives. James Hanks is our part-time archivist. We have 2-3 interns at a time, usually grad students in the process of earning their Masters of Information Science.”
The DIA Library is a True Community Resource
“Being a Librarian and Archivist is all about connecting people with information and being able to manage that information in a way to make it as accessible as possible. We acquire materials, provide access to the public, create indexes and inventories and more. Our mission is preservation for future exploration.”
“The DIA has 7 curatorial departments. We support museum staff including curators, conservators, and educators, helping them obtain the research materials they need for their respective research projects.”
“We interface with a lot of people. We get information requests from institutions, artists foundations, big auction houses (Christies and Sotheby’s) about things like exhibition installation photos, fact-checking, etc. We assist where we can with research on artists, exhibition history, and provenance, which is tracing the ownership history of artwork.”
“We frequently get questions from people who have a piece of art they’ve inherited. We might be able to help them with biographical information on the artist and sometimes exhibition history, but we are unable to do valuations. The Appraisers Association of America can direct you to a qualified appraiser near you. There’s also DuMouchelles auction house in Downtown Detroit. These are just a couple of suggestions from the list on our FAQ page”
“Not many people know this but the DIA has about 700 puppets, it’s one of the largest puppet collections in the United States and one of our special collections here at the library is the papers and books of legendary local puppeteer, Paul McPharlin.”
“We also have a collection of Albert Kahn’s personal books. Lawrence Tech has the larger part, which is housed in its own dedicated room at their library.”
“In terms of new acquisitions, we acquire roughly 700-1,000 books per year.”
“We purchase books from a restricted fund. On average, I purchase 10-15% of the books, which are usually recommendations from the curators. The others are donated to us by institutions, private owners, galleries, and other museums.”
“Our older books are still catalogued in Dewey. Everything else is Library of Congress style classification. Our interns help update access to these older books in our collection by conversion cataloging to LoC.”
“As an example of our books, we have Verdute di Roma (Views of Rome) from the Venetian engraver, Piranesi.”
“Published in 1835, this is a beautiful 29-volume set of over-sized folios, featuring etchings produced from his original plates, including his Imaginary Prisons series (La Carceri d’Invenzione). This was gifted to the DIA by the estate of former Michigan senator James McMillan in 1905.”
“And yes, in addition to digital offerings, we also still have the old index card catalogs.”
Maria’s Final Thoughts for Now
“I really enjoy working with all the different people, the curators, researchers, general public, giving tours, etc. As much as I think I know as a librarian & archivist, I find there’s always more to learn.”
“The challenges are coming up with creative ways to use what resources we have. There’s also so many hidden parts of the collection. I’d like to make them more well-known and help people discover something new, something they didn’t even know they might be interested in.”
“For about 90 years, the DIA used to have an annual Michigan Artists Exhibition. It stopped in the early 90’s due to financial difficulties. I wish the DIA would bring it back.”
“At some point, we might start a Friends Group for the DIA Research Library & Archives. I would like that very much.”
“This work keeps me busy. I still have about 200 boxes of books to sort through and catalog. This work is thoroughly enjoyable, I love it. Come visit us sometime and explore the collection.”
Donate your books
The DIA selectively accepts donations of art and art history books & associated materials.
DIA Research Library & Archives
Monday-Friday (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Open by appointment-only
Map of the DIA
Become a member of DIA
When visiting the DIA, what eateries are within walking distance?
Kresge Court (inside the DIA)
Located on Level 1, this beautiful eatery is designed like an open-air Italian medieval palace courtyard. They have coffee, wine, beer, liquor, sandwiches, salads, etc.
Try the Woodward Avenue Sandwich.
Hours: Tues-Thurs 9am-3:30pm, Fri 9am-9:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4:30pm
Outside of the DIA are:
Wasabi (15 E. Kirby, ste E) This Japanese-Korean spot is one of Maria’s personal favorites. Try the sushi and bibimbab.
Chartreuse (15 E. Kirby, ste D) Try the Cap steak and Madagascar vanilla pudding. Make sure you check the hours before coming.
Shields Pizza (5057 Woodward Ave) Try any of the pizzas and the dry rub wings.
Tony V’s Tavern (5756 Cass Ave) Try the pesto artichoke pizza and Tony V’s club sandwich.
Socratea (71 Garfield St, ste 50) Try the Moroccan mint tea.
Common Pub (5440 Cass Ave) Try the duck fat fries and the fried chicken.
Seva (66 E. Forest Ave) try the yam fries and the sweet potato quesadilla.