The Cultural Center Planning Initiative of Midtown Detroit Inc. was awarded a one-year $500,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help implement a digital strategy.
The grant will install free, outdoor public Wi-Fi in 2021 throughout the center, which includes The Carr Center, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Public Library, Hellenic Museum of Michigan, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan Science Center, The Scarab Club, University of Michigan facilities in the area, and Wayne State University. It also supports capacity building and infrastructure development.
“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,” says Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc. She has been leading the center over the last 18 months.
The Wi-Fi will be offered in partnership with WSU’s computing and information technology department as well as rootoftwo, a design studio in Ann Arbor. The system will be an extension of WSU’s existing campus system. Additional funding was provided by Detroit’s Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.
“The pandemic-related closures accelerated the way institutions were experimenting with digital technologies to engage audiences,” says 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.”
The grant also supports the development of digital capacity workshops focused on the creation of digital experiences. It will be accompanied by small grants for the stakeholder institutions to test ideas.
Since the start of COVID-19, Midtown Detroit Inc. and the 12 stakeholder institutions in the center worked together to reopen in July with guidance from NSF International. The center developed shared protocols.
“As we try to reimagine ourselves digitally, we are also trying to reimagine the Cultural Center physically to create more welcoming spaces designed for outdoor programming and that further connect our institutions,” says Mosey. “It is MDI’s hope that the digital and the physical can complement each other and be deemed equally important. We are well aware that we are in difficult economic times. Our CCPI strategy is one that is meant to span over the next 10-15 years and is designed to be implemented in phases as funds become available and as institutional will is emboldened.”
The grant also will fund development of pop-up video screens tied to institutional programming to consider the future placement of permanent screens for the district; develop workshops for stakeholder institutions focused on creating new digital experiences, accompanied by small grants to test ideas; develop a new website for the center; and showcase the value of the technology enhancements at the Dlectricity festival in 2021.
The center’s planning initiative is a reimagining of the city’s 83-acre cultural district. It will work to unify landscape, architecture, and technology.
The Knight Foundation is based in Florida and focuses efforts on locations across the country, including southeast Michigan.