The Detroit Institute of Arts – known locally as the DIA – is the finest of the museums in Detroit. With more than 100 galleries and a few billion dollars worth of art, it’s truly a world-class art museum, and rightfully ranked as one of the best in the United States. It’s an essential stop on your visit to Detroit and has great appeal for all ages.
Artwork at the DIA
The DIA features artwork from around the world in its many galleries, though its heaviest focus is on American art. I particularly enjoy the gallery of American landscapes, which shouldn’t be a surprise for someone who adores travel and geography.
Another prominent area in the American section includes rooms reconstructed from a historic home in Pennsylvania. In this gallery, the high ceilings are replaced by low wooden beams as you enter.
The DIA is also known for having one of the most extensive collections of African-American art in the country. It includes the impossible-to-miss Officer of the Hussars by Kehinde Wiley
You’ll also find plenty of European art in the galleries ranging from ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to more modern paintings. You’ll find paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso among others as you explore. The DIA takes pride in the fact that it was the first public gallery in the United States to purchase a Van Gogh.
In another area focusing on religious art, the ceilings are constructed to resemble the vaulted roof of a church. I love the way it makes you feel like you’re stepping into the environment, just like the historic house section previously mentioned. There’s even a whole mini chapel that was transported from a castle and built into one of the walls here.
Out in the great hallway that runs down the center of the museum, you’ll find beautifully painted ceilings worthy of any European cathedral. Several historic suits of armor are also on display.
Other notable galleries include art from parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Native American cultures. Like the European art galleries, many of the works on display have religious aspects. You can even see a mummy on display.
Diego Rivera Murals at the DIA
By far the best-known artwork in the museum, its famous Diego Rivera murals titled Detroit Industry take up an entire courtyard in the center of the building. They span two stories high around all four sides of the glass-roofed courtyard and tell the story of the city’s workers. The details are incredible and you can spend a good deal of time soaking them all in. They’re so very Detroit and still so relevant today. The murals absolutely should not be skipped on your visit. The courtyard even has its own app.
Kids at the DIA
One of the things I enjoy about the DIA is that most of the galleries have children’s activities incorporated. Throughout the museum, you’ll find plaques with a photo of a close-up of one of the works of art in the room with a clue. Kids are challenged to locate the artwork “I Spy”-style and it’s a great way to get them engaged with the paintings and looking at their details.
The DIA also offers a Youth Tour audio guide recommended for kids from 8-12 with different information than what’s provided on the adult guide. The handheld devices can be picked up at the media desk and are free to borrow with your ticket. Alternatively, using the GooseChase app, you can participate in a scavenger hunt around the museum.
On the lower level near the food court, you’ll find one very worn metal donkey sculpture. It’s the only artwork in the museum that you’re allowed to touch, and kids usually love a chance to get their hands on something. Its worn appearance is due to generations of visitors also touching it and it serves as a demonstration of why the rest of the art is off limits.
Events at the DIA
The Detroit Institute of Arts hosts regular weekly events as well as special exhibitions throughout the year. Thursdays at the Museum feature special activities for visitors aged 55 and up. Friday Night Live offers free concerts by local musicians. Or, you can join the Detroit City Chess Club for a chess lesson on Fridays. On weekends, drawing lessons are conducted in various galleries around the DIA with all supplies provided. It’s a great learning experience for visitors of all ages.
The DIA also has special exhibition galleries. Major ones tend to be on display for a few months at a time and frequently require an extra admission charge. Check the events site to find out about upcoming special galleries. I’ve seen everything from Star Wars costumes to Frida Kahlo’s works in the special events displays.
Dining at the DIA
The main dining option at the museum is the Café DIA, located on the first floor. In this cafeteria-style restaurant, you’ll be able to pick from soups, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and other grilled items. You can also grab a drink, snack, or dessert for a quicker option. Beer and wine are also available.
The Kresge Court is my favorite spot to grab a drink, and the glass-roofed courtyard is an excellent spot to take a break. It has a café-style feel with cute tables and the natural lighting makes it feel outdoors year round. Soups, salads, sandwiches, apps, and charcuterie are offered. For beverages, you can get locally roasted coffee, choose from a variety of teas, or take advantage of the full bar.
DIA gift shop
There is, of course, a gift shop at the museum. Called the DIA Shop, you can get souvenirs related to some of the most famous artwork on display. If you fell in love with the Diego Rivera murals, you’ll find plenty of items to take home with parts of the masterpieces printed on them. Local artisans also have creations for sale so you can pick up something very unique to the city.
One of the great things about the museum is that DIA admission is free to residents of the tri-county area (Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne), so visitors from this area can visit the regular galleries at no charge. For those who are traveling a little further, as of 2021 DIA admission for adults is $14 and $6 for children with kids under 5 able to visit for free, which makes it a very affordable option compared to a lot of other art museums. Visit the DIA website for ticket info and current hours.
Getting to the Detroit Institute of Arts
The DIA is located right on Woodward Avenue in the Midtown area. It’s about two miles north of downtown, and is serviced by the Q Line streetcar if you’re coming from that direction. This part of the city is located near the I-75 – I-94 junction, so it’s very convenient to access from any side of the city or suburbs. Though is famous marble façade faces out toward Woodward, entry is on the south end of the building off Farnsworth Ave.
Detroit Institute of Arts parking
Most visitors use the Detroit Institute of Arts parking lot, which is accessed via an entrance on John R Street. Parking in this gated lot is flat rate, so you pay for the day and don’t have to worry about how long you’re spending in the museum. Farnsworth, Woodward, and some of the surrounding side streets also offer metered parking, which is done via pay stations in each area or through the ParkDetroit app.