Where to start and how to end? For nearly sixteen years, I've had the pleasure of writing newsletter columns that tried to give DIA members a sense of what goes on behind the scenes here as well as in the wider art museum world. This, in all likelihood, is my last letter as director, and I would like to thank those who have contributed so notably to the successes of my tenure here. But, as I have only so much space and as I am bound to leave someone out, I will do so, by and large, in general terms.
First, DIA staff: my many colleagues whose loyalty, determination, and expertise helped me in so many ways in the transformation of the DIA into a new and forward-looking place. Second, the volunteers: from board members to gallery assistants and from auxiliary leaders to office aides, they represent a force that gives the museum reach and power multiple times its annual operating budget. Third, the many patrons: private individuals, foundations, and businesses who have generously supported the DIA through the truly challenging first fifteen years of this century. Then there are all the individuals in the political realm--many elected officials, many not--who helped steer the DIA through its successful millage campaign. Wherever I travel in the world, there is amazement verging on disbelief that such a thing was possible in these days of, it seems, unrelenting belt-tightening. Finally, there are those who helped stave off the sale of DIA art during the city bankruptcy--some lawyers, some not; some politicians, some not--and made the DIA the embodiment of "that which does not kill you, makes you stronger."
For most of my career I had the priceless privilege of doing work that was exactly what I wanted to do, pay check or not. And while that was not really the case during the millage campaign and the bankruptcy crisis, I like to think that remaking the DIA lies at the core of our new lease on life. Without the "New DIA" there would have been no millage. Without the millage, the DIA would have been all but closed by the time of the bankruptcy, a moribund institution much easier to plunder than one that had gained the trust and, dare I say it, love of a significant population, demonstrating a level of support that affected the opening moves of those guiding the bankruptcy. So, in the end, I believe, it was the commitment to art and the conviction that art really matters to people that underlay our political and legal victories.
I leave with some regrets and unfinished business--most notably the reinstallation of our ancient near-eastern antiquities and our Asian collections--and the museum faces a steep climb as we raise funds for an unrestricted endowment that will free it from the need for significant public funding. But, overall, I leave with an unfamiliarly deep sense of satisfaction that the DIA makes a difference again: locally, nationally and internationally, to scholars and nonspecialists alike. As is seen so vividly in the current Diego/Frida show, art and life are not separate but tightly connected and motivated by a passion that does not stop.
To all of you who have enlivened and enlightened my Detroit sojourn--and I hope you know who you are--thank you. It's been quite a ride.
Graham W. J. Beal, Director