Emphasis on Art Will Inspire Mobility Innovations at Michigan Central

Michigan Central Station was already well known for its architecture when Ford purchased and began renovating the building three years ago. But a new art initiative is intended to ensure that the company’s future mobility hub is part of a broad innovation ecosystem, as well as a global destination for artists.

Ford purchased the train station and other nearby buildings in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood in 2018 to create what will become Michigan Central, a 30-acre mobility innovation district that will bring together innovators, educators, investors, policy makers and companies to tackle the transportation challenges of tomorrow. In addition to office space, maker labs and testing areas for Ford employees and our partners, it will feature new outdoor areas, public art, shops, restaurants and community amenities.

When Michigan Central opens, Ford employees, innovation partners and Detroit residents will see many types of art, created by a diverse group of artists using a variety of tools at any given time. That could mean traditional paintings, pop-up exhibitions, performance pieces, digital art or even graffiti, to name a few styles.

“The idea is to create a spectrum of different art opportunities in the project because not everyone is a painter, sculptor or has the ability to do digital art, so we’re really trying to create diversity in the artists themselves, their perspective and also in the art tools and mediums they might use,” said Ariel Grue Lee, vice president and principal of Farmboy Fine Arts, Ford’s art advisory. “The vision is to have art help tell the story of each space through the lens of past, present, future and permeate the environment as much as possible. The magic will be in the mix.”

The ultimate goal is to create an inclusive and equitable program that champions the local artist community while making Michigan Central a thriving innovation district and global art destination she said.

Michigan Central Art on Display Now

While the art strategy for Michigan Central continues to take shape, there are two current exhibits where the train station takes center stage. It is featured in an online exhibition series in which artwork is digitally rendered onto the walls of unique architectural spaces from the Detroit area to create the illusion that those pieces of art are physically on display. SITE: Michigan Central Station is hosted by the Library Street Collective, which operates an art gallery in downtown Detroit and organizes public programs. The series has previously featured State Savings Bank and the Turkel House, among other spaces.

“It really aligns with our lens of past, present and future and the idea of innovation as incorporating references to the past, while also looking ahead and thinking about what the future of art might look like,” Grue Lee said.  

Library Street Collective will donate 10% of the proceeds from any works sold during the exhibit’s run, now through Sept. 15, to the MexicantownCDC, a community-driven program selected by Ford which promotes Latino culture and contributions to Detroit and Michigan.

In another exhibit, Instagram users can mix the architecture of Michigan Central Station with the newest form of digital 3D augmented reality art. Attendees of this weekend’s African World Festival, which is hosted by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and sponsored by the Ford Fund, will be able to scan a QR code with their smartphones to access an Instagram filter with a 3D image of the station that is digitally wrapped with famous Detroit-based African American artists’ works. (Click here on mobile devices to see the image on Instagram and click here for Facebook.) The event runs Friday through Sunday.

“It’s a great experience of art, particularly local artists, being displayed in a really cool way on an iconic building,” said Julie Roscini, Michigan Central external engagement manager. “Both exhibits are very inclusive of artists that live and work in Detroit, and they show that Michigan Central is a place for everyone.”

While the train station is the focus of these two exhibits, work continues across the Michigan Central development, with the reimagined Book Depository set to open next year along with the new Bagley Mobility Hub. Workers at the station are entering the final phase of returning the Detroit icon to its original grandeur, including repairing the waiting room’s Guastavino vaulted ceiling and historic plaster work and recreating lost elements like the gigantic chandeliers. Construction work on the station is expected to be complete by the end of 2022 and open to tenants and the public in mid-2023.

View More