DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts unveiled a revitalized Kresge Court today to an enthusiastic crowd of museum visitors and supporters. The redesign transforms one of the museum’s most architecturally stunning spaces into a comfortable place where visitors can eat, drink, relax, socialize and meet informally.
Kresge Court is now a more engaging venue for those who live, study and work in metropolitan Detroit, with a fixed floor plan that will create new rhythms of activity in the space. There will be more intentional seating areas for work, casual discussion, small coffeehouse-type meetings and more intimate dining. Sundays will feature solo acoustic performers from 1 to 4 p.m., and a “cultural concierge” will be on hand to provide information on DIA and Midtown happenings.
“Kresge Court is undoubtedly one of the glories of the DIA,” said Graham W.J. Beal, DIA director. “Although its precise function has varied over the years—from open-air garden to cafeteria, to an event venue—we are bringing it back to its original function as an elegant place of relaxation and social interaction.”
Kresge Court’s food and beverage service provided by Sodexo integrates an elegant dining atmosphere into the new layout. The upgraded menu offers new shareable items including gourmet snacks, cheese and charcuterie, as well as sandwiches, salads and desserts, using the best seasonal ingredients from local markets. Beverages include Starbucks coffee, lattes and blended frozen drinks, as well as beer and wine. A special menu on Friday nights offers a variety of tapas and a full bar from 5 to 9 p.m., with specialty drinks. Food and beverage service is available one hour after the museum opens until one hour before it closes.
The project is funded by a $268,500 grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of leading national and regional foundations, banks, and federal agencies committed to accelerating creative placemaking across the United States. Bradford Frost, a Wayne State University Detroit Revitalization fellow and special assistant for community and economic development at the DIA, led the project from the concept stage through its execution.
“Meaningful urban living demands vibrant options for people: places where they can access welcoming spaces for creative exchange, thoughtful reflection and interpersonal connection,” said Frost. “This has been a truly rewarding experience, and I commend ArtPlace America for its efforts to accelerate creative placemaking across the United States.”
“ArtPlace America is excited to see a traditional cultural institution thinking in new ways about how to activate the space both inside and outside of its walls.” Said Jeremy Nowak, interim director of ArtPlace America. “The new Kresge Court, the ‘Cultural Living Room,’ invites the community in to take ownership of this historic public space. It’s an important next step for Midtown in building the mix of activities and uses that create a walkable, vibrant neighborhood.”
Local designer Patrick Thompson of Patrick Thompson Design collaborated with ArtPlace America partners, including NBS Commercial Interiors, Steelcase, Midtown Detroit Inc., the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and CultureSource to conceptualize the space and implement the new design.
“We wanted to make Kresge Court the grandest living room in town,” said Thompson. “The DIA really wanted to provide a space where people can come to meet, work, relax and be inspired. It was designed to provide a unique experience for each visitor.”
The new furniture plan will marry the grandeur of the historic court with more space-appropriate textures, colors, lighting and technology. The furniture is a mix of traditional and modern, and the various seating groups, color palette and greenery follow the rhythms of a traditional English garden. Modern pieces are by Patricia Urquiola for Coalesse, Euro Saarinen for Knoll and Danish designer Hans Wegner. Traditional pieces include wingback chairs and oversized tufted Chesterfield sofas.
Tall library tables are installed with iPads, and all the furniture contains power outlets to facilitate use of personal electronic devices. Dining tables for meetings and social gatherings can accommodate from four to 10 people, and one- or two-person seating areas are available for more quiet activities, such as reading. Some tabletops are covered with removable paper so people can take notes during meetings or write down inspired ideas. Kresge Court also features an upgraded audio system and new lighting.
While the DIA encourages people to hold meetings in Kresge Court, the space is meant to accommodate informal meetings, so people cannot reserve the space in advance. Groups can book the space for events after hours, but the furniture arrangements cannot be changed.
The museum anticipates that students from Wayne State and College for Creative Studies, and Midtown residents, businesses and organizations will find Kresge Court particularly appealing because of its proximity and its welcoming atmosphere for studying, meeting, having a bite to eat or just taking a break. Several social organizations, such as Detroit Young Professionals, have expressed interest in holding after-work social gatherings, and more requests are expected.
The South Lawn will also be developed as a community gathering space as part of the ArtPlace America grant. The museum will use the outdoor area to strengthen its connection to street life along the Woodward corridor as Midtown continues its evolution into a highly walkable community. The lawn will feature seating and lighting, activating the space as a venue for innovative seasonal events, including concerts, new community-based programs, local food trucks and other outdoor activities, from lawn games to drum circles.