Michigan has many great assets it is known for around the world, like cars, Motown and the Great Lakes. The state’s many museums preserve the artifacts related to these industries and share their histories.
From art museums, wildlife exhibitions, science museums, cultural institutions, children’s museums and more, visiting a museum can be a fun, interesting and educational experience. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about the Great Lakes state, be sure to put these five museums on your Michigan bucket list.
Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford
Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) has one of the largest and most significant art collections in the United States. With more than 65,000 artworks that date from the earliest civilizations to the present, the museum offers visitors an encounter with human creativity from all over the world.
“A hallmark of the DIA is the diversity of the collection. In addition to outstanding American, European, Modern and Contemporary, and Graphic art, the museum holds significant works of African, Asian, Native American, Oceanic, Islamic and Ancient art,” said Communications Coordinator Laura Vestrand in an email. “In 2000, the DIA established the General Motors Center for African American Art as a curatorial department in order to broaden the museum’s collection of African American art.”
Founded in 1885, the museum covers 658,000 square feet that includes more than 100 galleries, a 1,150-seat auditorium, a 380-seat lecture/recital hall, an art reference library and a state-of-the-art conservation services laboratory. Originally located on Jefferson Avenue, it moved to its current site on Woodward Avenue in 1927 due to its rapidly expanding collection. Two wings were added in the 1960s and 1970s, and a major renovation and expansion that began in 1999 was completed in 2007.
Due to COVID-19, the DIA is requiring visitors to make advanced reservations. Members of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties receive free admission thanks to their millage support. The museum hours have also changed to ensure proper cleaning procedures.
Exhibits this fall include Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020, which closes Jan. 9, 2022 and Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite, which will be open Oct. 8, 2021-Jan. 16, 2022.
Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020 demonstrates how Detroit designers have always led the way in car design. Organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the exhibition highlights the artistry and influence of Detroit car designers working between 1950 and the present day, bringing together 12 coupes and sedans designed across that 70-year period to highlight significant achievements in style and technology. Design drawings allow visitors to imagine the creative and innovative processes that bring a vehicle from the drawing board to the street while a selection of paintings and sculptures highlight the conversation between the American art world and the car culture from the 1950s to the present day.
Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite features more than 40 large-scale color and black-and-white photographs by Kwame Brathwaite, whose work helped advance one of the most influential cultural movements of the 1960s, “Black Is Beautiful,” when black women and men turned to natural hairstyles and African-inspired clothing. This is the first major exhibition dedicated to Brathwaite, a vital figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey’s writings, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS), a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers, and the Grandassa Models, a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards.
In addition, the museum’s family programs are currently virtual although it does present special editions of Wimage LLC.’s engaging and live online show for kids – Wimee’s Words. Wimee is a lovable robot that inspires kids to learn through creativity. Each DIA episode features interactive songs, wordplay and more inspired by exhibitions and works at the DIA. Audience members can interact directly with Wimee through the DIA’s Facebook or YouTube page through the chat options and suggestions become a part of the episode.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
While many enjoy activities like swimming, fishing and boating on the Great Lakes every day, the waters that surround the state definitely provide excellent recreational use. However, they are also a critical element in Michigan’s shipping industry that have proven to be quite dangerous – and deadly – in the past.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, located in Paradise on Whitefish Point, is a reminder of the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior. Widely recognized as the most treacherous of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the site of numerous shipwrecks, including the sinking of the famous Edmund Fitzgerald, where 29 lives perished on Nov. 10, 1975 as the result of a fierce storm. Most shipwrecks on the Great Lakes are caused by weather events or collisions. According to the museum’s website, of the 550 known major shipwrecks in Lake Superior, at least 200 of them are near the Whitefish Point area, leading it often to be referred to as Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast.
The museum experience includes several artifacts recovered from Lake Superior shipwrecks, sharing stories about the crew, vessels and what happened to the ships. Visitors are able to view the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald as well as other historic structures on the campus, like the lightkeeper’s quarters.
The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford is a unique campus where inspiration and hands-on learning is emphasized. Its five distinct attractions – Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, The Henry Ford Giant Screen Experience and the Benson Ford Research Center – represent innovation, ingenuity and resourcefulness, focusing not only on how these breakthrough discoveries impacted Michigan, but America as a whole.
Greenfield Village is a must-see for school-aged children. Historic structures and living history farms bring the past alive, allowing them to explore Henry Ford’s childhood home and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. They have the opportunity to see firsthand what led to some of the greatest innovations that continue to impact how Americans live, work and innovate today.
The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation holds some of the most significant objects and documents that further represent that can-do spirit including The Wright Brothers’ Home & Bicycle Shop, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, one of Steve Jobs’ and Steve Wozniak’s 1976 Apple-1 computers and Henry Ford’s Quadricycle.
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, a joint partnership between The Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company, provides an insider view at the birthplace of the Model A, the V-8, Mustang and the Thunderbird while taking a look at the future of manufacturing through the assembly of the F-150.
The Henry Ford also is home to unique festivals and events, including America’s longest-running antique car show, Old Car Festival powered by Hagerty, which returns to Greenfield Village Sept. 11-12 and Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village, beginning Oct. 7.
This year’s Old Car Festival celebrates Women at the Wheel, showcasing how early automobiles supported women in making inroads in American life.
Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village will continue its 2020 format, allowing guests to stroll the event at their own pace. New this year, programming will transition from a family-friendly harvest-themed atmosphere complete with Fall Flavor Weekend elements during daylight hours, to the traditional Hallowe’en atmosphere at night. The popular Hallowe’en Express, also introduced last year, is back for 2021. Public tickets go on sale on Sept. 8.
Holocaust Memorial Center
The Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus is a 55,000-square-foot museum and Library Archive in Farmington Hills that teaches powerful lessons about the Holocaust by showing examples of those who risked their lives to save others, sharing video testimonies and displaying artifacts such as a World War II-era boxcar and paintings. There’s even a sapling from the tree located outside Anne Frank’s hiding place window that is described in her diary.
Through Dec. 30, visitors can view the exhibition “The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Łódź Ghetto,” presented in cooperation with the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków, Poland. The starting point for this exhibition is a diary written by Rywka Lipszyc, a teenager in the Łódź Ghetto, between October 1943 and April 1944. The contents were the testament of a Jewish girl who lost her siblings and parents, but never lost hope despite moments of doubt. More than 60 years after its discovery in the liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp, the diary traveled to the United States, where it was translated from Polish, supplemented with commentaries and published in book form.
The exhibition also includes unique historical artifacts and documents from museums in Poland, the United States, Israel, Germany and Belgium. Historical objects from the Łódź Ghetto and Chełmno (Kulmhof) Death Camp are on loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland. These provide a moving testament documenting the personal dimensions of the Holocaust.
“Objects like this are especially important as the years continue to pass,” said Derek Hastings, an associate professor of history at Oakland University in a press release. “They remind us once again that despite the massive scope of the Holocaust, the individual victims were anything but faceless. Rywka’s deeply personal reflections — especially regarding her faith — are poignant and moving.”
Hastings will speak about the time in history when Rywka penned her diary on Sept. 1 in a lecture titled “A Girl Lost, A Diary Found: Life in the Łódź Ghetto.” It will give an up-close and historical perspective on the brutal conditions of the Łódź ghetto. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. at the Holocaust Memorial Center. The program also will be streamed live on the Holocaust Memorial Center website, www.holocaustcenter.org/.
With a focus on education, above the museum is a Library Archive that is an important resource for academics, the media and families researching their heritage. The Holocaust Memorial Center serves more than 100,000 Michiganders each year.
Gilmore Car Museum
A trip to the Gilmore Car Museum is worth the effort. As you’re driving along in the countryside, seemingly out of nowhere the car museum and its pristine lawns, white fencing and beautiful red barns pops up.
“While unassuming on the outside, the inside houses some of the best automotive history in the country. Everything here has a story to tell from the vintage structures to the cars and everything in between. It truly feels like taking a step back in time,” said Emily Wiegand, marketing manager.
The Gilmore Car Museum has more than 400 cars on display and offers activities like a free, chauffeured ride through its 90-acre campus, a slot car track, and Pedalville, an area where young children can play and drive in vintage pedal cars. In addition, an Automotive Activity Center allows children to build and race their own cars down the track, see how well they do in the assembly line putting cars together, and take part in some fun and unique photo opportunities.
The Corvette exhibit The Greatest Generation will be on display in the main gallery through March 2022. It is a presentation of Chevrolet Corvettes from each generation from early fiberglass-bodied roadsters with 150-horsepower inline six-cylinder engines and two-speed transmissions, to today’s fire-breathing, mid-engined C8 Corvettes with more than 600 horsepower and 200+ mile per hour top speeds.
Along with nearly two dozen of the rarest and most significant Corvettes in existence from all over the United States, some exceptional cars in the exhibit include:
• GM MOTORAMA presentation of two 1954 Corvette concept cars: Nomad Station Wagon and Corvair “dream cars”
• Incredibly rare 1969 Corvette L-88 Stingray Coupe with high-performance 427ci V8
• An “airborne” Joie Chitwood Auto Thrill Show 1958 Corvette
• Top secret Alpha Build C5 Corvette test car, in unrestored “as-tested” condition
• Six concept, styling and development cars never previously displayed together
The Gilmore Car Museum started in the early 1960s when Donald S. Gilmore began collecting vintage automobiles. Some of the first vehicles in his collection included a 1927 Ford Model T, a 1913 Rolls Royce, and a 1920 Pierce Arrow. Over the years that followed, Donald continued collecting some of the world’s most renowned automobiles. To accommodate his collection, he acquired 90 acres of land in Hickory Corners. It was his wife Genevieve who had the idea of turning the collection into a museum. They established a nonprofit foundation and opened the museum to the public in 1966.
Today, the Gilmore Car Museum is North America’s largest auto museum with more than 190,000 square feet of exhibit space. The museum’s campus features numerous vintage structures including a restored and fully-functioning 1941 Silk City diner, a recreated 1930s Shell Station, seven on-site Partner Museums and more.
For more information
• The Detroit Institute of Arts is at 5200 Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission is $14/adults; $6/youth ages 6-17; and free for children age 5 and under. Residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties receive free admission thanks to their millage support. Learn more at dia.org.
• The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located 18335 N. Whitefish Point Road in Paradise. It is open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. through Oct. 31. Admission is $14/adults; $10/children 17 and under; and children under age 5 are free. There are also family ticketing options available. For more information, visit ShipwreckMuseum.com.
• The Henry Ford is located at 20900 Oakwood Blvd. in Dearborn. Tickets to all four of The Henry Ford’s featured attractions, any combo of multiple attractions or a single attraction can be purchased at TheHenryFord.org. Be sure to review hours for each attraction, as times may vary.
• The Holocaust Memorial Center is located at 28123 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday. Admission is $8/adults; $6/seniors age 62+ and college students; and $5/students. For more information, visit holocaustcenter.org.
• The Gilmore Car Museum is located at 6865 W. Hickory Road in Hickory Corners. It is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends. Admission is $16/adults; $11/youth ages 11-17; and free for children ages 10 and under. Admission includes access to shows and meets and all museum buildings and exhibits. Parking is free. For details, visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org.
Due to COVID-19, always call ahead to check current hours and attendance policies before making the trip as these may change depending on the current nature of the pandemic.
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