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9 Unexpectedly Amazing Art Museums in Michigan for Families

DIA, MOCAD, DAM, GRAM — all of these are acronyms for various art museums in Michigan. Art? In Michigan? Really? Really. When I was invited on a trip beginning in Detroit and traveling west to Grand Rapids I wasn’t sure what to expect. Other writers on the trip hailed from prestigious art publications and held degrees in art history and humanities. Then there was me — my approach to art is either I like it or I don’t, but even when I don’t like it I can appreciate the importance of art throughout history and the ability art gives different people to express themselves (as well as the ability art gives the viewer to express themselves.)

I do my best to take my daughter Addie around to various art shows around Indianapolis, and I would love to someday take her to Michigan to experience some of the same places I went with a dozen well-educated art writers. I’d be thrilled to see the art through her eyes, to hear what she has to say about each place and find out what inspires her most. Also, I’d like to give her a broader view of Michigan; that it’s not just a mitten-shaped state surrounded by lakes, but that it’s also a place where art is inspired, created and displayed alongside masters like Picasso and Warhol.

If you’re looking for a family vacation where you have the option of injecting a little culture amidst all your outdoor adventures, Michigan may very well be the place for you.

  • Heidelberg Project 1 of 11
    Heidelberg

    The Heidelberg Project is an open-air arts project that began in a Detroit neighborhood that had been given up on. The artist, Tyree Guyton, began with some simple dots on his childhood home and has since spread his creativity across several city blocks with dozens of installments that make you think, wonder and feel a little confused and a lot hopeful.

    You can read (and see) more about the Heidleberg Project in my article about it here.

  • Detroit Institute of Art 2 of 11
    DIA Exterior

    The Detroit Institute of Art may be going through a bit of a rough time with funding and politics, and while I don't understand the logistics completely, nor am I sure of the future of this museum — I can tell you it is one of (if not the) best art museums I have ever been in. Everyone in our group agreed that we had pretty low expectations (being Detroit) but we were all blown away by the massive collection, the quality of the collection and the sheer size of the museum itself. I could have spent days here.

  • DIA Eye Spy 3 of 11
    DIASpy

    Many of the rooms in the DIA had these little 'Eye Spy' plaques on the wall, right at kid level. My eight-year-old would have loved finding all of the hidden clues contained in each one.

  • DIA Interior 4 of 11
    DIA

    The most well-known art in the DIA are the enormous Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera. The detail in each one and the history portrayed in these 27 panels are worth the trip alone. There is art from every time period in the DIA, from the ivory casket carving on the lower left dating in the 1300's to the contemporary take on classic art by Kehinde Wiley.

  • Detroit Artists Market 5 of 11
    dam-2

    The Detroit Artists Market houses not only a gallery featuring local artists, but a store as well, featuring handmade art and gifts from local artists. I bought an upcycled plate with a painting of a squirrel standing on a nut holding out a flower while there. It's one of my favorite pieces of art in my house.

  • Contemporary Art Detroit 6 of 11
    CAD-2

    The MoCAD is a museum crafted out of a former auto dealership, appropriate for Detroit, no? It houses an ever changing display of contemporary art and is only minutes away from the DAM (Detroit Artists Market) and the DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) making it an easy stop to make an art trip to Detroit complete.

  • The Broad 7 of 11
    broad

    The Broad (pronounced 'brode') sits on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing. The building, designed by Zaha Hadid,  is impossible to miss and the aesthetics outside only slightly rival the unique design inside. While this was a quick stop on our trip, it was worth it to be able to experience a building and collection this unique.

  • Meijer Gardens 8 of 11
    meijer

    This was one of my favorite stops on our visit to Michigan; if you've ever been in the Midwest then you're probably familiar with Meijer grocery stores and you probably love them as much as I do. The Meijer gardens are a continuing tribute to Frederick and his love of sculpture and art. Here you have the option of taking a tram tour (suggested) or a walking tour of the various sculptures located on the expansive property. My most favorite bit was the children's garden, I could have gotten lost in there for hours with my own girls.

  • Grand Rapids Art Museum 9 of 11
    GRAM

    This is an absolutely beautiful museum, full of light and big open spaces. A lot of the art at the GRAM during our visit were ArtPrize entries, but there was also a room filled with mid century furniture that made my heart squeal just a bit.

  • Meyer May House 10 of 11
    meyer may

    The Meyer May house in Grand Rapids was my first Frank Lloyd Wright house ... and man was it a good one. The house was designed around a man who was my exact height, so every window, wall and piece of furniture was the perfect height for me. After watching a video about the extensive restoration of the house, we were taken on a tour through each of the rooms. Mr. Wright was a genius, a strangely obsessive genius. I only wish my dad would have been there to see an entire house constructed with quarter sawn oak and filled with original Stickley and Wright furniture.

  • Art Prize 11 of 11
    art prize

    ArtPrize is a 19-day publicly juried art competition entered by artists from all over the world with talents in everything from masonry to knitting. ArtPrize is one art event that every human should experience at least once, it takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan in late fall and will forever change your view on art, what it is and how it can be interpreted. To find out more about ArtPrize and see more entries from this year's competition check out my post here.

Want to know the best places to eat while on your own museum crawl through Michigan? Check out my post on ‘Meals in the Mitten’ here.
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Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.

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