“Individual donors have always been at the core of the museum’s collecting activities,” Beal explained. They’ve also supported capital campaigns, annual fund drives and other programs aimed at sustaining and expanding the museum. As the recipient of private donations from the community over many years, the Detroit Institute of Arts has been uncommonly blessed.
One of the museum’s and Detroit’s top attractions, Diego Rivera’s 1932 fresco Detroit Industry came as a gift from major benefactor and collector Edsel B. Ford, Henry Ford’s only child. The figure-filled fresco occupies the four walls enclosing the museum’s Rivera Court.
But Detroit Industry only begins to reflect the love of and zeal for supporting art Edsel Ford and his wife Eleanor shared and passed to their children and grandchildren. Through direct gifts of art and dollar contributions to purchases, the Fords have increased the museum’s permanent collection by literally hundreds of important works.
“We’ve been surrounded by art for generations,” says granddaughter Ellie Ford, today a member of the museum’s board of directors. “And we just love it.”
To date, Ford gifts to the Detroit Institute of Arts total more than $116 million. “Everyone in my family feels such a strong appreciation for the very privileged and fortunate life we have,” Ellie Ford says about that support. “But with that comes an obligation and responsibility and I’d say, more importantly, a deep desire to give back.”
Significant works also have come to the museum from Richard A. Manoogian, collector son of the late Masco Corporation founder Alex Manoogian. “My biggest interest has been in American art, particularly that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Manoogian, for whom the museum’s American wing was named in 2007. “We’re very proud of how we were able to do well in this country, which really achieved its most dramatic growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
A latecomer to the art world, Richard Manoogian joined the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Board of Directors in 1974 originally as a civic effort. But the passion other board members showed for art proved infectious. So, while serving on committees and assisting in special projects, Richard amassed a varied private collection with works that—true to the Manoogian spirit of giving—circulates to museums and other facilities in Michigan and nationwide.
“We’ve put shows together for smaller museums that would have had difficulties mounting exhibitions,” Richard says. “One of the things in which I’ve always been a great believer is sharing.”
That’s also true of A. Alfred Taubman, one of this country’s most successful owner/developers of regional shopping malls. Says Taubman, “My friend Henry Ford used to say, ‘You’re not responsible to give. You respond because you believe it’s a good thing.’” For decades, Taubman has subscribed to that belief, instructing family members to always act on it.
A collector for 30-plus years, Taubman has donated important works to the Detroit Institute of Arts and has served as chairman of the City of Detroit’s Art Commission for many years. He joined with Manoogian and the late Josephine Ford to spearhead fundraising campaigns and, critically, chaired the Building Committee responsible for architect Michael Graves’ successful $158 million museum expansion and renovation, completed in 2007. In recognition of his efforts, powers at the museum named a wing of its 1927 core building in Taubman’s honor.
“The Detroit Institute of Arts has always been an important part of my life,” Taubman says about his efforts on the museum’s behalf. “It’s a marvelous institution. I can’t picture Detroit without it.”
Pictured: Beal with Eleanor Ford, DIA board member, in the Josephine F. and Walter B. Ford II Great Hall, named after Ellie’s grandparents. Courtesy of DIA.