Art, Arts & Culture

Mackinac Moment: DIA’s Salvador Salort-Pons on Building Arts-Focused Communities in Michigan

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At the Mackinac Policy Conference, they call it a “Mackinac Moment,” or a 10-minute TED-style talk that comes between the keynote speakers meant to be one part time filler and one part conversation with a Metro Detroit newsmaker.

Oddly enough, these are some of the most meaningful speeches that happen at the Mackinac Policy Conference. They are hardly off the cuff. But they are heartfelt and full of information about the change makers that are doing the real jobs of changing our attitudes, our institutions and our structures in and around Michigan.

PonsThis year is no different. One of note is Salvador Salort-Pons, director, President and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts. He will have a Mackinac Moment from 12:35-12:45 Thursday, the main event of sorts. He is taking on the Detroit Regional Chamber’s pillar of trust – trust in the arts, in culture and in the future of our creative selves in Detroit and the state as a whole.

Salort-Pons joined the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) curatorial division in 2008 as assistant curator of European paintings and served as head of the European art department since 2011, adding the role of executive director of Collection Strategies and Information in 2013. He also served as the Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European Paintings at the DIA and played a key role in the museum’s current strategic planning process. Salort-Pons was appointed director, president and CEO in October 2015, succeeding Graham W. J. Beal, who retired as director on June 30, 2015.

Prior to coming to Detroit, Salort-Pons was senior curator at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, assistant professor at the University of Madrid and exhibition curator at the Memmo Foundation/Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome. While at the Memmo Foundation, he co-curated “Il trionfo del colore: Collezione Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza” (Rome, 2002) as well as “Velázquez” (Rome, 2001), which was the first monographic exhibition on the painter ever organized in Italy. Salort-Pons has been the recipient of a Rome Prize Fellowship at the Spanish Academy of Rome and a research fellow at the Royal College of Spain in Bologna (founded in 1364), the Getty Grant Program, the Medici Archive Project in Florence and Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, among others.

In addition to two books — ”Velázquez en Italia” (Madrid, 2002) and “Velázquez” (Madrid, 2008) — Salort-Pons has published a number of scientific articles in British, Spanish and Italian journals and exhibition catalogues. A native of Madrid, he holds a master’s in geography and history (University of Madrid), a master’s in business administration (Cox School of Business, SMU) and a doctorate in the history of art (University of Bologna).

Q: How does having a strong art museum build neighborhoods/city/regional trust?

A: In our daily work, we have to go beyond the walls of our building. We have conversations with our communities, deepening our relationships with them and building bonds, so that we can serve them with programs that resonate with their interests while maintaining a museum-quality product. The result is an environment of trust and unity. Museums are places where we connect our past and present, build trust, inspire, and envision a hopeful future for our region and beyond.

Q: How are you working to gain the trust of a diversity of communities at the DIA?

A: Free admission for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties contributes to this effort, by increasing access to the museum for all residents of our region. Through our permanent collection and a variety of cultural programs and exhibitions, ranging from our current exhibition, Star Wars and the Power of Costume to the outdoor programs on our grounds, we are evolving into a place to gather and share experiences. We are a community of builders that emphasizes our rich, diverse cultures as a bonding medium for our society. Our collection is becoming a mirror where diverse communities seek to be represented and reflected, culturally and individually.

Q: How does being at the Mackinac Policy Conference help your work at the DIA and for the art world as a whole?

A: The DIA plays a significant role in our community, and attending the conference allows to maintain and build the relationships that help us connect with all residents of Michigan. From our statewide exhibition program to the many benefits the residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties receive as a result of millage funding, the DIA provides vital services that impact our entire state.

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