Inside Out

As a director at the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Mike Stafford says the 319-acre art and educational campus isn’t limited by its physical boundaries.

As a director at the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Mike Stafford says the 319-acre art and educational campus isn’t limited by its physical boundaries. “Just because we’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean we have to act like one,” says Stafford, director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Hosting more than 200,000 visitors annually, who come to view planets through a highpowered telescope or take in a planetarium show or a scientific exhibit, Stafford and his team aren’t content to host events and activities only within the campus property. In recent years, Cranbrook has helped create a series of outreach programs with area schools and other groups as a way to reach new audiences.

With grants from ITC Corp. in Novi, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, and others, Cranbrook offers educational programs within public school systems in Detroit, Pontiac, Hamtramck, and Southfield, as well as in other districts around the state. When Cranbrook extends its reach into mostly poorer communities where financing a field trip is often a challenging endeavor, Stafford says students receive a more enriching education.

“The plain truth is, some of the families are living on tight budgets and can’t afford a field trip,” he says. “Or there are rural areas in northern Michigan, for example, where a field trip is impractical. The outreach program is something we continue to build on.”

The institute is also moving at the speed of business. When Ric DeVore, regional president of Detroit and southeast Michigan for PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Troy, approached Stafford about hosting “Women of Vision,” which displays the work of 11 female photojournalists from National Geographic, he jumped at the opportunity and delayed the showing of a biodiversity exhibit featuring live animals.

“Ric got in touch with us, and while we had a show booked for the fall, we were very aggressive in moving things around to accommodate ‘Women of Vision,’ ” Stafford says. “We had to design and plan out the exhibit space, and build the walls and other show components almost on the fly, but we were very energized to host this exhibit.”

The show, which runs through the end of the year, features more than 100 works and takes visitors on a tour of the world — from the rainforests of New Guinea to the savannahs of Botswana to the beaches of the Jersey Shore. In February, and extending through next summer, the institute will present an exhibit of light and allusion that will incorporate images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Stafford also is putting together a corporate membership program, scheduled to be unveiled in December, which will allow businesses and organizations to provide an annual pass to employees and their families, or suppliers and their families.      

“For one year, people will have unlimited access to the Institute of Science, take part in the events we do, get discounts for summer camps, and (have) free access to lectures,” he says. “It will help us raise our profile and get new people into the museum.”

The institute also works with hospitals on their kids’ cancer programs, Stafford says, and explains that because he and his staff know that children undergoing cancer treatments must avoid crowds, the institute — working with the DMC Foundation in Detroit and the Carls Foundation in Troy — closes four times a year, scrubs the entire institute overnight, and brings the children in the following day for private tours and activities.

“The idea came from my own son, Joshua, who had leukemia at age 7 (he is now 23),” Stafford says. “There weren’t a lot of places we could take him, so working with Kids Kicking Cancer (in Southfield), the program sprang from that. It’s hard to be a kid when you have no immunity. And it fits in with our mission of doing really meaningful, socially impactful work. We’re leading by example.” db

R.J. King