When Elyse Foltyn joined the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in 2011 at the behest of her late friend, museum co-founder Julie Reyes Taubman, Foltyn “thought [she] was joining the board of an art museum.” Instead, she reflects, “I realized I was joining the board of an intersection of our community.”
MOCAD is known for its cutting edge visual arts exhibitions, like this past summer’s exhibition from street artist KAWS or the current site-specific installation, “Robolights Detroit,” but Foltyn notes that it’s “a community center of sorts,” with programs for teenagers and the host site for the largest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the state.
It is this power of the arts to “bring people together and create conversations” that has led Foltyn, who has served as MOCAD’s board chair since 2017, to embark on the museum’s biggest project yet. Its midtown Detroit building, designed by Albert Kahn and which is also a former auto dealership, is undergoing a $15 million capital campaign in order to “deliver more art to more people.” The renovations will include the installation of a much needed HVAC system – which will appease both guests and sensitive works of art, an outdoor plaza in order to present more concerts and movies, and large windows on its Woodward Avenue facade as a way to both engage passersby as well as connect museum staff more with its environs.
At its heart, after all, Foltyn says that MOCAD is there to serve both Detroit artists and patrons.
“We bring artwork and performances that might not otherwise have a venue,” which included presenting works from more than 50 Detroit-based artists last year alone.
Foltyn and her husband David have embraced many of these artists, bringing their works into their Birmingham home. While they already owned pieces from many Detroit artists, including works from Cass Corridor artists Lester Johnson, Michael Luchs and Nancy Mitchnick, their collection has expanded into contemporary art through her work at MOCAD.
“In addition to loving more modern art from years ago, I also like owning work today that has a story and personal connection,” she said. Citing artists ranging from Copenhagen’s Tal R to former Cranbrook Academy of Art artist-in-residence Beverly Fishman, the Foltyn’s collection now centers around “people that are our age, still living, that we’ve met, had a conversation with. It makes it much more personal and intimate.”
And just like at the museum, Foltyn remarks that these artworks stoke conversations within their home. Foltyn, who has two sets of twins still living at home, as well as three older children, says that they will point out which pieces they like. “I like that they’re surrounded by art and have an appreciation.
“I feel like I was lucky to be born in Detroit when it was a vibrant city, and once again it’s energized and exciting,” Foltyn reflected. “I’ve got to do my part in creating a city that my older kids might want to return to and my younger children want to stay in.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent