Julie Reyes Taubman’s influence helps MOCAD look toward a secure, meaningful future in Detroit.
Featured photo courtesy of PLY+ Architecture and Design
Art enthusiasts launching the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) had cultural dreams that reached way beyond their own lifetimes.
They wanted to establish — and did in 2006 — a welcoming art center with space for viewing, discussing and making today’s art with varying programs to interest people of diverse ages and backgrounds.
One leader was Julie Reyes Taubman, who showcased her personal artistic talents through photography. Proceeds from her book, Detroit: 138 Square Miles, went to the museum.
The Reyes and Taubman families have joined to help realize dreams that now extend beyond her lifetime, which ended in 2018. They are supporting a capital fundraising campaign that will enhance the building and its surroundings while establishing an endowment.
The families’ foundations together have pledged $5 million in matching funds toward a goal of achieving $15 million in the MOCAD Future Fund. As renovations progress, the museum will be designated as MOCAD at the Julie Reyes Taubman Building.
“The best Julie gave to the museum was her ongoing curiosity and creativity,” says campaign chair Elyse Foltyn, who brings experience from leadership in the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “Julie saw beauty in many things and challenged us to think about different ways of seeing beauty.
“She wanted more MOCAD capabilities to keep people in the museum longer and make it more of a social meeting place. She wanted it to be an intersection for community activities as well as concerts, movies and performances.
“Julie wasn’t part of our entire plan as we have it now, but we talked about changes. After her passing, we decided to move our dreams forward.”
MOCAD, located on Woodward and Garfield in Detroit, occupies a building of 22,000 square feet designed by Albert Kahn Associates in the early 1900s and used as an auto dealership.
Craig Borum, an architect and principal at PLY+ Architecture and Design and a professor of architecture at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Design and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, has worked on changes, which include bringing a plaza setting to the parking lot, establishing a modern heating-cooling system and allowing more space flexibility for exhibits and programs.
“When the museum opened, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity in the neighborhood, and the museum was kind of internal in its organization and appearance,” Borum explains.
“In the years since, so much has happened in the transformation of the city that we felt it was important to try to connect the museum to the neighborhood in a bigger way.”
One of the first outdoor projects will be opening the grounds so the separate elements can be joined for a cohesive walkthrough and availability for events. Indoors, a rearrangement of structural elements will allow more display and programming space.
“Everything we’re doing is to add another layer and not conceal the character and quality the building has,” Borum explains, referring to the steel trusses and wood ceiling he believes give a sense of the industrial nature of Detroit.
“We’re trying to enhance what’s there and bring more visibility to the structure. The original façade was done with glass so those driving by could see new cars. We’re trying to bring the spirit of that back with a quarter of the façade full of glass to give transparency, enhance the street experience and invite people in.”
As Borum developed plans, he understood the building also would be available for community use.
“I met Julie when we were working on the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead installation and saw her at a couple of events,” Borum says. “She was an amazing force.”
Marsha Miro, former Free Press art critic and MOCAD founder with the late suburban gallery owner Susanne Hilberry, is board president and was a close friend of Reyes Taubman.
“I had been working on MOCAD for 10 years, and I brought Julie to the building to find out what she thought of it because Richard Manoogian said he would buy it for MOCAD,” Miro recalls.
“She was a nonstop thinker, and she said she loved it and wanted to be involved. She did our first benefit at her house before we even opened, and raised enough money, with some grants, to start. She became critical to everything we did.”
Among the diversity of programming over the years has been a representation of artists with Jewish ties, including painter Nancy Mitchnick, filmmaker Dara Friedman, installation artist Dor Guez and poet Matvei Yankelevich.
A current installation, “Robolights Detroit,” is based on a Palm Springs project showcased in book form with photos by Reyes Taubman.
“I feel people should see MOCAD as a place where creativity is hallowed and nurtured,” Miro says. “Artists are so good at interpreting the world and making sense of it.
“With Julie, those of us active with MOCAD felt strongly about building an endowment in order to make sure MOCAD is around as an institution for a long time.”
Elysia Borowy-Reeder, MOCAD executive director, has been with the museum for six years and worked closely with Reyes Taubman.
“Julie was a visionary,” Borowy-Reeder says. “She wanted MOCAD to be ambitious and at the edge of contemporary art while creating dialogue. She loved to talk about art; and when MOCAD does exhibitions and public programming, we think about the dialogue of art.”
To learn more about MOCAD and current programming, go to mocadetroit.org. For information on fund-raising opportunities, go to mocadetroit.org/future-fund. (313) 832-6622.