On November 19, 1928, the Detroit Historical Society opened the Detroit Historical Museum in a one-room suite on the 23rd floor of the Barlum Tower, earning it the nickname of highest museum in the world. These days, Detroit?s Cultural Center accommodates the museum in an 80,000-square-foot space, where interactive exhibits preserve more than 300 years of city history. Frontiers to Factories traces Detroit's transformation from French-frontier outpost to industrial city, while America's Motor City celebrates its automotive dominance with a changing display of classic vehicles and a 1903 Model T that guests can sit in. Streets of Old Detroit brings the 19th century to life with recreated cobblestone streets that wind past stores of the era such as a five-and-dime, a soda shop, and a barbershop for powdered wigs.
Thanks to recent renovations, the society has expanded its chronicle of Detroit with three new permanent exhibitions. Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy covers the ways the city's industrial infrastructure adapted to demands of World War II, and The Gallery of Innovation includes videos about renowned innovators and hands-on activities involving trial and error. As The Allesee Gallery of Culture examines the city's cultural history, its Kid Rock Music Lab lets visitors create and share their own music using interactive displays. Outside, the Detroit Legends Plaza honors the city's sports, entertainment, and media legends with cemented handprints and signatures from stars such as Lily Tomlin and Martha Reeves.
Standing in the shadow of Hitsville USA—the original home of Motown Records and the studio that launched the careers of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson—Motown Museum preserves the legacy of soul’s most successful label. Immersive exhibits trace the roots and eventual impact of Motown on popular culture, demonstrating how Gordy achieved the signature sound or how James Jamerson challenged and beat the devil in a bass-playing contest. Visitors get a chance to sing into the innovative Echo Chamber—a hole cut into the ceiling that created the reverb sound synonymous with hit recordings such as "Dancing in the Street." A steady stream of photographs and other rhythm-and-blues memorabilia leads amblers into “Studio A,” which contains the original instruments and equipment used to record The Jackson Five and Gladys Knight during Motown’s Detroit era. Crowds gather around Michael Jackson’s signature glove-and-hat ensemble, which he himself donated to the museum.
For an art museum, the flat, cracked facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) is shockingly stark, yet there's beauty in its realness. The walls that once framed an abandoned car dealership now host Barry McGee's "Untitled" mural of writ-large graffiti on the building's exterior, greeting people with an uncompromising sense of honesty that permeates through to the art collection within. MOCAD's informal approach to art exhibition shares a kindred spirit with few other museums, with exhibits that swap museum-imposed artifice for relatable, raw beauty. That didn't go unnoticed by The New York Times, who hailed the collection for "seeing the seediness, and celebrating it."
Never straying from a mission to present contemporary works that reflect the current culture, inspire dialogue, and engage the community, MOCAD's
stunning exhibitions narrate the history and future of the Motor City. Public programs such as lectures, literary readings, live music performances, films, and children's educational activities further engage visitors, and the MOCAD store offers exclusive t-shirts, magazines, kid's toys, and jewelry.
More than 100 years ago, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant was on the cutting edge of innovation?the first 12,000 Model Ts were made on its premises. But over the years, the "Birthplace of the Model T" was neglected, and in 1997, afraid that the bulldozers were lurking around the corner, ready to raze the premises, a committee was formed to investigate saving the plant. The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex purchased the New England?mill-style structure two years later, transforming it into an auto museum and National Historic Landmark. Today, the museum is one of the oldest automotive plants open to the public in the city of Detroit.
The venue?s exhibits chronicle not only Ford?s rise to the forefront of the automotive industry, but also lesser known tales. Visitors can learn about other car models built there, such as the Model N, and about other automakers, such as Wayne and Brush.
In 1986, artist Tyree Guyton began painting abandoned houses, arranging found objects into sculptures, and decorating abandoned cars on a two-block stretch of Heidelberg Street on the city’s east end. The Heidelberg Project, as the undertaking came to be known, is a commentary on urban decay and remains just as impactful decades after its inception.
Located in Detroit's Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is one of the world's largest institutions dedicated to the African-American experience. Covering 120,000 square feet, the museum houses five rotating exhibitions, including Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment, and five permanent exhibitions, such as the 22,000-square-foot core exhibit And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture. Also at the museum are the Louise Lovett Wright Library & Archives and the Ford Rotunda, which boasts a 55-foot-high glass dome that dumps artificial snow when shaken by giants.