Straight from The Source, a regular interview series taking you behind-the-scenes to Southeast Michigan’s cultural destinations to hear from the curators, programmers, leaders, doers and makers.
What are you best known for?
Personally, I think I’m most known for being a glass half-full person, someone who is very optimistic and upbeat. I always look for the positive side of things, and I always look for the good in a situation—the possibilities are always endless in my mind.
I think I take that same optimism into my work, and apply it into vision and strategy. I have a very strategic approach, and I think people recognize me for that as well.
What would you like to be known for?
Our goal at The Henry Ford is to really help people make a difference in the world through the stories we tell here. I would love to be known for helping change people's perspectives and think that they can do anything by connecting to these great innovators, past and present, and do something themselves in order to make their own mark in the world.
At the beginning of this year, you announced that that the Henry Ford Museum (one of the destinations on The Henry Ford campus, which also includes Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory) will now be known as the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. What is the significance of this name change?
The Henry Ford Museum has always been about ideas and innovations that change the world. Because our name is “Henry Ford,” a lot of people would be confused by that, especially if they were coming from out of town, that it was just about Henry Ford or about cars. We just said, ‘we need to say it [innovation], it will help clear up some of that confusion.’
The name of the overall campus destination remains The Henry Ford, and on the campus we have the museum, the village, the factory—this just helps to delineate in a more clear and focused way what the museum is about. It is something that will better serve our visitors, not just in this community, but around the world as they plan their visit, and it really effectively conveys that core idea that threads throughout the museum’s collection, which is innovation. It is the foundation of the museum, and we’ve always been striving to tell those stories on the museum floor.
We plan to introduce changes onto the floor of the museum in the next couple of years reflecting changes in technology, making upgrades to exhibits using innovation, and these upgrades can reflect more cohesively and more directly this idea of innovation, like displaying the 1964 New York World's Fair IBM Kiosk designed by Charles and Ray Eames. We will open some exhibits in the coming years through the lens of innovation, including the new permanent exhibition, Mathematica, so it will be a much more focused attempt at really conveying that to our visitor base.
What does a vibrant arts and cultural community mean to you, and how does innovation fit in?
To me, it absolutely has to be diverse—there needs to be diverse opportunities, and diverse experiences for diverse audiences. So it really means that the lives of kids, all kinds of kids and families throughout the community are being enriched through diverse programming and opportunities. That’s really a key word to underscore vibrant because it’s large and it’s small organizations, it’s art and it’s dance and it’s theater, but I would extend that definition way beyond—you could look at a coffee shop and say it’s a very cultural experience depending on how it’s presenting itself. It’s really about having a community of people that comes together to see what’s going on in the world through arts and culture.
"Making someone think differently and having those different opportunities makes something vibrant."
Something might hit you might not hit me, but when it does, and if you have diverse opportunities, it provides inspiration in so many different ways and can motivate people to do something in their own lives. In and of itself, making someone think differently and having those different opportunities makes something vibrant.
The idea of innovation helps people see what’s possible. So much innovation is involved in arts and culture and in so many different ways, these are ways that it all fits together.
What local cultural destination have you visited recently?
In the last month, just in the last month, I have been to one of the DSO’s neighborhood concerts, a Beethoven performance at Kirk in the Hills. I went to see Detroit Public Theatre’s presentation of The Holler Sessions, I went to the Jam Handy and saw Ivan Moshchuk play a piano presentation to the backdrop of photographer Lisa Spindler’s photographs—talk about diversity! I went to the Flint Symphony Orchestra. On my calendar, this weekend, we’re going to the DFT (Detroit Film Theatre), and next month, we’re going to a production at UMS.
We absolutely love going to these events, they’re very, very diverse, and very different and that’s what I love about being in this community. We have so many neat things going on.
Who, to you, epitomizes arts and culture in Michigan?
"It’s all the people who are coming together to create culture in this region and creating immersive experiences, helping to break down barriers."
I’m not going to say one person. It’s all the people who are coming together to create culture in this region and creating immersive experiences, helping to break down barriers. It’s the young artists, it’s the makers, the innovators, the restaurateurs and the chefs, the entrepreneurs, it’s the people who are running urban gardens, all of that to me is creating arts and culture. If you look at what’s happening at Eastern Market, when I went to the Jam Handy, that was a program called Secret Sessions, it was a pop-up experience, or just the chefs doing pop-up experiences in buildings that might just be used for special events, and are not open to the public. Those are very cultural expressions, to me, all of those different kinds of people that are coming together and creating a whole new culture in Michigan, in Detroit, in our region. The people rebuilding lofts and redesigning buildings, those are all expressions of culture to me. Some of the new retail experiences—Shinola, Will Leather, John Varvatos—that is all art. They are the people that are helping to rebuild and revitalize our community with a cultural flavor that hasn’t been as noteworthy as it is now.
When you have visitors in from out of town, what is the one cultural destination you make sure they see during their visit?
I always bring them to The Henry Ford. I know I run it here, but it is a one-of-a kind destination, the collections are unrivaled, you can spend four days here and not get bored.
One of my other favorite places to go is the Arab American National Museum. I’m half-Lebanese, so I take relatives there, but it’s also a cool venue, and they’re doing great things with programming.
What excites you most about the future of SE MI’s arts and culture scene?
The opportunities for continued collaboration and diversity. I think that the idea that arts and culture in its most traditional sense is expanding to include so many different forms, like I mentioned culinary arts, pop-up performances, street art, all of that is creating unique experiences and opportunities for conversation and dialogue. Artists, musicians, poets, can express themselves through their art to bring attention to, and create dialogue around, these really important issues.
And we're doing that at The Henry Ford. A lot of our exhibitions and some of the special programs help create conversation and dialogue around innovation, collaboration, entrepreneurship, inclusion and diversity, makers—all of those things are things we’re dealing with as a nation, but also as an organization and a community.