Metro Detroit Bucket List: Can’t-Miss Art Attractions

In our 2022 City Guide, we roundup what every local must do in their lifetime. Here are the galleries, art events, and cultural institutions that made our list.
We asked locals to experience our Bucket List. Pictured above at the Fisher Building is Paige (left), a regional sales manger for Axis Communications, and model LaPorcshia.

Spend the day at Cranbrook, a local treasure and a National Historic Landmark 

It’s tough to measure the cultural influence of the Cranbrook Educational Community, home to the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Cranbrook Art Museum, the Cranbrook Institute of Science, and much more. The museum hosts genre-bending exhibitions on the regular, and the nature paths that wind through the 319-acre campus are dotted with works by world-renowned architects and sculptors. Bloomfield Hills: cranbrook.edu

See cinema from around the globe in the gorgeous Detroit Film Theatre

The films screening at the Detroit Film Theatre (located inside the Detroit Institute of Arts) are films you won’t be able to see on the big screen anywhere else in the area. Under the curatorship of longtime Director Elliot Wilhelm, it’s perhaps the greatest cinematic treasure in the city for casual viewers and cinephiles alike. Detroit: dia.org

Visit the Heidelberg Project

It’s not what it used to be, but there’s no denying the decadeslong impact and international awareness that the Heidelberg Project has brought to Detroit’s art scene. The project site, where empty houses and land have been turned into sprawling art installations, remains a vital must-see for locals or out-of-town visitors. They won’t forget the experience. Detroit: heidelberg.org

Go to the Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum to see a completely unique piece of Detroit’s art installation scene

Speaking of vast architectural spaces turned into artwork, the Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum eats up an entire city block. It uses materials like iron, rock, mirrors, and wood as a way to connect Black Detroiters with their African heritage through art. The artist behind the project — Olayami Dabls — has been a visual storyteller for decades. His creative career was honored this year when he became the latest Kresge Eminent Artist — one of the most prestigious arts awards in the country. Detroit: mbad.org

Down the road, the Motown Museum transforms itself into something even grander

The planned $50-million expansion of the Motown Museum will no doubt make the museum more interactive, more accessible and more state-of-the-art. We’ve got to wait till the end of the summer to enjoy these changes (it is currently closed for renovations), but it will be well worth the wait to see the next chapter in this legacy museum that represents the signature sound of the city. Detroit: motownmuseum.org

Do it in a day — the Wright Museum, the DIA, the Historical Museum

If bouncing around cultural institutions is what you’d consider the perfect day, you can do it within a matter of blocks with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Institute of Arts (which could include a visit to the aforementioned Detroit Film Theatre), and the Detroit Historical Museum. Park the car, grab lunch in between stops at Ima (a delicious ramen spot) just down the street, and soak up the city’s cultural corridor in one visit. Detroit: thewright.org, dia.org, detroithistorical.org

Learn about the artistic and cultural legacy of one of the largest demographics in metro Detroit at the Arab American National Museum

Now that it’s reopened to the public, add the Arab American National Museum to your list. It’s the first museum in the U.S. to focus on the contributions of Arab Americans, complementing its core galleries with rotating exhibitions. Dearborn: arabamericanmuseum.org

Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum Detroit.
LaPorcshia at the Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum in Detroit.

Tour the murals of Eastern Market

Detroit’s art scene has blossomed over the past decade in part thanks to the bevy of street art that’s decked out neighborhoods like Eastern Market, which likely has the largest concentration of murals in metro Detroit. There are plenty of online maps available for you to plot out a route and also identify the names of the artists whose work you’re viewing. Detroit: easternmarket.org

Get raunchy at one of the largest collections of erotic art at Detroit’s Dirty Show

Sure, you’ve already missed this year’s Dirty Show, but this is a bucket list, and you have to have this erotic art show on that list. There’s more nuance than you think — and it’s also raunchier than you think, so consider that when planning who you are going with. The Dirty Show features plenty of local artists you are likely not familiar with but also brings in national artists and burlesque performers. Detroit: dirtydetroit.com

See locally produced theater at Detroit Public Theatre’s new venue

Detroit’s theater scene is criminally underrated. Detroit Public Theatre is changing that — quickly. One of its originally commissioned plays, Birthday Candles, has already made its way to Broadway. And while we likely won’t see the new venue and bar until later this fall, it’s a must-do when the company finally opens the doors to its new theater in the Cass Corridor. Detroit: detroitpublictheatre.org

Spend the day at The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village to see one of the most unique museums, grounds in the United States

Maybe you haven’t been since you were a kid. Maybe you haven’t had a chance to take your kids. The Henry Ford is like no other museum in the country, highlighting the ways our lives have been shaped by technology and innovation. Greenfield Village does much the same and offers a variety of themed events around the holidays, including Halloween programming that has become an annual tradition for many metro Detroiters. (Make extra time for the bounty of incredible Arabic food that surrounds the campus.) Dearborn: thehenryford.org

Visit the Fisher Building to see ‘Detroit’s largest art object’

It’s called this because of its superb design, mosaics, and painted ceilings, plus the sheer amount of materials (marble, brass, and bronze) that went into this art deco masterpiece. The Fisher Building is the vision of architect Albert Kahn, who was commissioned by the Fisher automotive family to build “the most beautiful building in the world.” While tours of this building are currently unavailable, there’s more info than ever scattered around the building to help guide you. Detroit: fisherbuilding.city

Tour the art deco decadence of the Guardian Building downtown

Much like the Fisher Building, the Guardian Building is a one-of-a-kind art deco gem in downtown Detroit. Luckily for us, the lobbies to both buildings are open to the public. Bring your camera — the architectural views are stunning. Detroit: guardianbuilding.com

It’s a heavy but important visit at the Zekelman Holocaust Center

Located in Farmington Hills, the Zekelman Holocaust Center is far from just that place you visited in high school to learn about the Holocaust. Its core galleries, alongside its rotating exhibitions, shed new light on old issues, often reminding patrons that the work this museum does in preserving a cultural memory is more important today than ever. Farmington Hills: holocaustcenter.org


Panelist Picks

Tylonn Sawyer

Acclaimed Detroit painter and educator
Tylonn Sawyer
Tylonn Sawyer

N’Namdi Center is one of the preeminent art galleries in the Midwest. George and Igzegbi N’Namdi curate a feast for the eyes and soul. On any given day, you may see classic works hanging from [the late] Robert Colescott, Allie McGhee, and the late Gilda Snowden to a new generation of artists such as Dr. Anita Bates, Jocelyn Rainey, and yours truly. Another spot is M Contemporary in Ferndale, a spot I visit and patronize often. The owner and operator, Melannie Chard, has gathered an impressive roster of artists and consistently puts on some of the best exhibitions around.”

Angela Wisniewski

Owner of Coup D’état, a women’s lifestyle boutique in Detroit
Angela W
Angela Wisniewski

“One of my favorite artistic Detroit events is by far the Detroit Hair Wars, founded and produced by David Humphries (better known as ‘Hump the Grinder’). From what started as an underground ‘beauty battle’ for Black stylists showing their skills in nightclubs to a full-on traveling show complete with sponsors, choreography, and DJ sets, Hair Wars has become an acclaimed visual phenomenon. There’s nothing like it, honestly. The hairstyles are true works of art, and the stylists are artists offering an incredible glance into a beautiful culture.”


New & Notable

When we talk about “new and notable” in this section, it’s important to note that venues, museums, and galleries don’t pop up as quickly as restaurants or bars, so we’ve aimed for places that have opened in the past five to seven years.

The Independent Comedy Club

It may not always be seen through this lens, but stand-up comedy is a performing art and belongs in the arts section. The Independent Comedy Club is a tiny, 60-ish seat venue that matches the energy and vibe of a comedy club in New York City. You won’t recognize many of the names booked (just take a risk, OK?), but it’s certainly the place to see the next wave of local and national talent before they become household names. Hamtramck: planetant.com/theindependent

Reyes Finn Gallery

When Reyes Finn brought its contemporary art gallery from Birmingham to Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood in 2019, it represented a cultural changing of the guard — out of the suburbs and into the city. With the move, Reyes Finn has brought artists like Maya Stovall and James Benjamin Franklin to a thriving art scene that’s yet to reach its ceiling. Detroit: reyesfinn.com

BLKOUT Walls

The long-running Murals in the Market street art festival in Eastern Market showed the power of large-scale murals to attract thousands and beautify a neighborhood. Detroit artist Sydney G. James has taken this model and brought it to the North End neighborhood, enlisting a diverse array of queer and minority artists to turn the walls into canvases (and attracting investment along the way). Detroit: blkoutwalls.com

Playground Detroit

Playground Detroit is part gallery, part incubator. It’s given grants, platforms, and wall space to myriad Detroit artists — Bre’Ann White, Gisela McDaniel, Patrick Ethen, Bakpak Durden. That’s created an impact that goes beyond the exhibitions it hosts, ultimately supporting a creative community that continues to transform not only the gallery’s space on Gratiot Avenue but Detroit’s art world itself. Detroit: playgrounddetroit.com

Norwest Gallery of Art

It’s a relief to see a gallery as strong as Norwest outside of the city’s central cultural corridor (or what we traditionally think of as the cultural center of the city around Midtown and the Detroit Institute of Arts). Like at Playground, you’ll find a bevy of emerging and established talents here thanks to owner and curator Asia Hamilton (who is a talented artist in her own right), including past shows with sculptor Austen Brantley and clever group exhibitions with themes like flowers and online dating. Detroit: norwestgallery.com


Ryan Patrick Hooper writes Hour Detroit’s Culture Calendar. He is the host of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET, Detroit’s NPR station (weekdays from noon to 2 p.m.).


This story is from the April 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition

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