Grand Hotel Arts Weekend Guest Speaker Elysia Borowy-Reeder

Today’s guest blogger is Elysia Borowy-Reeder, Michigan State University Alumna and Executive Director for Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). As Executive Director of MOCAD, Borowy-Reeder plays an essential role in establishing the vision, goals, and strategic plans for the organization. Fulfilling MOCAD’s mission through close collaboration with key stakeholders, Borowy-Reeder tirelessly works to sustain the museum and to secure its permanent future in Detroit for generations to come.

elysaRadically Yours in Detroit

My talk for Michigan State University’s College of Arts & Letters “Arts Weekend” will focus on the innovative arts scene developing in Detroit and how MOCAD has played a significant role in the development of Detroit as a highly regarded art city. This is a special and unique time for MOCAD, it is about to celebrate its ten-year anniversary. We have also adapted a new strategic plan that makes us more finically solid and more radical in our programming efforts. MOCAD wants to lead the culture and support cutting-edge work happening in Detroit and beyond. MOCAD has been called the most progressive museum in the United States.

The arts scene in Detroit has hit a turning point. For decades, the city seemed stuck with the label of being a post-industrial cultural wasteland, hit hard by years of economic stasis. But in recent years, Detroit seems to have achieved a certain type of notoriety and interest within the art world.

Marred by decades of social immobility, Detroit has massive hurdles to confront. Despite its reputation, Detroit was not a cultural wasteland. From my perspective, I consider the city’s worst impacted years to be a fertile ground for developing entire artistic movements, from the ” Cass Corridor art movement” to the birth of techno music to DIY artistic interventions to social practice projects. But despite its legacy of creativity and innovation, Detroit has struggled to get attention from the art world and the finally with the help of many foundations the focus in on Detroit.  I cannot say enough about the amazing work being done in Detroit. Detroit is leader of social practice themed works. This is new way of looking and making work that does much of the needed heavy lifting in community building in Detroit.

The New York Times has repeatedly headlined the story of Detroit as a haven for artists due to its cheap space, thus providing artists with low overhead and creating the real possibility of making work rather than working.  This has caused Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Galapagos Art Space to move to Detroit and invest in 12 buildings.

Another turning point occurred in 2010, when Michigan based musician and writer, Patti Smith famously declared that New York City had “closed itself off” to the young and the struggling and suggested artists find a new city — like Detroit. At the SAIC graduation she lauded don’t move to New York, move to Detroit. This statement helped in the establishment of Detroit as an art city for a new generation.

Most recently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Detroit as a “city of design” as part of its Creative Cities Network, an initiative of 69 cities “to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.” Detroit was the first U.S. city to obtain such a designation, joining sister cities Budapest and Singapore.

Another example of Detroit putting art into public domain is in 2015 where homegrown art enthusiasts and makers 1xRUN staged the first-ever Murals in the Market festival, which brought dozens of local, national, and international street artists to bring art to public view in Detroit’s Eastern Market district by creating more than 45 murals. In addition to this collective focus on murals, MOCAD did its first crowd fundraising project, which allowed artist Andrew Kuo to create a new façade for our Museum.

These are just a few examples of how Detroit is an amazing art city. And much of its future is unwritten and unformed, for those who are pioneers the future looks bright. I look forward to sharing more with you at Arts Weekend.

Join us for Radically Yours in Detroit on Saturday, June 25th as a feature of the 22nd annual Arts Weekend presented by the Michigan State University College of Arts & Letters.

More about Elysia Borowy-Reeder:
Borowy-Reeder joined MOCAD as Executive Director in April of 2013. She is former Founding Director of CAM Raleigh and served in leadership positions at MCA Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Having curated over 40 exhibitions — most recently Rob Pruitt’s Obama Paintings and Jose Lerma’s La Bella Crisis exhibitions for MOCAD — Borowy-Reeder will curate the largest exhibition of Sanford Biggers’ career in fall 2016. Elysia Borowy-Reeder holds two master degrees from MSU, was named a 2008 Getty Museum Leadership Fellow, and attended Yale School of Management and Antioch College.

A Visit to Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island this Winter

This week a few Grand Hotel staff members visited Mackinac Island to check on winter projects taking place.

Grand Hotel


A typical trip to Mackinac might involve transportation by car to the ferry docks, ferry boat to Mackinac Island, and then once on Mackinac – walking, biking or horse-drawn carriage. Our winter trip involved car, plane, and a snowmobile! Cars are not allowed on Mackinac Island with the exception of the winter when snowmobiles are allowed during a specific period of time because otherwise transportation around the island would be very difficult for island residents on snow and ice.

Our day started at the Lansing, MI airport with a short charter plane flight (1 hour) to Mackinac Island. It was a cloudy day but cleared up once we approached the Straits of Mackinac which made for beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge to the west and then the ever so Grand Lady, and landscape of Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Bridge
Approaching Mackinac Island
Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel from the air

We flew around to the north side of the island and landed at the Mackinac Island airport.

Mackinac Island Airport

The airport is one entrance and gateway to the Mackinac Island State Park where there are over 70 miles of paved and unpaved trails which during the summer time is great for bike riding, walking or hiking.

Mackinac Island State Park
Mackinac Island State Park

During the winter some of these trails are used for cross country skiing and snowmobiling. The hiking trails are groomed daily and closed to snowmobiles. Hiking trails are also used for cross-country skiing. Snowmobilers use the main roads which are plowed. Which brings me to our next mode of transportation – the snowmobile.

Grand Hotel is located 2 miles from the airport.









We hopped on and headed out  to Annex Road and then down Grand Avenue about 2 miles to America’s Summer Place. This time of year definitely has a sense of serenity and peace with so few people traveling the snow covered roads. Every snowmobiler that passes by waves, it is a universal hello – just like in the summer when riding a bike.

Hotel Snowmobiles
Outside of the hotel snowmobiles are lined up.

We entered the hotel via the back dock. Approximately 20 staff members were there working hard on winter updates and getting ready for the next season. We saw “The Duck” positioned at his work station hand crafting 30 tables for the Esther Williams Swimming Pool. Duck has been working for Grand Hotel for over 30 years making the flower boxes that line the Front Porch with geraniums, and tables, among other carefully crafted wood working items. He is 84 years old and has lived on Mackinac Island his entire life. He works meticulously during the winter on woodworking projects for the hotel.

The Duck
The Duck
Tables for the swimming pool
Tables for the swimming pool

Say Hello to Alex Ewing, Director of Security. Alex keeps track of everyone coming and going to the hotel not only during the winter but also during the summer months. Alex lives and works on Mackinac Island all year.Alex Ewing

Not far from Security is Patrick Conlon, Human Resources Manager. Patrick is very busy this time of year finding and hiring the right candidates to fill various positions throughout the hotel before we open our doors this May. Patrick Conlon

It is amazing to see so many  people working on every floor throughout the hotel tending to anything that may need care, touching up paint in guest rooms, and painting over 1,000 pieces of furniture. Yes, they are painting every green edge by hand!

Hand Painting

Many of the headboards are getting a fresh coat of white paint. Here are a few freshly painted ones drying.

Freshly painted ready to go into a guest room.
Freshly painted and drying.

Since Grand Hotel is an original wood framed hotel it is not possible to heat it. Individual areas have to be heated to make sure the paint can dry just right.

Freshly painted dresser

Freshly painted dresser

Freshly painted Armoire

Freshly painted Armoire

From May – October when the hotel is open the staff is busy taking care of guests and running the every day operation of the hotel. The winter has a similar type of hustle and bustle but instead of taking care of guests, staff is working hard to make sure everything is just right for when those doors open again in May. Including many new things, like 16 new bathrooms!

New Bathroom
A newly renovated bathroom.

Here we made it up to the 2nd and 3rd floors where guest rooms are getting renovated bathrooms. These new bathrooms will have black and white tiles, walk-in glass showers, and heated floors.

Working hard tiling a 2nd floor bathroom.


View from the 3rd floor Madison Suite.

Eventually we made our way down to the Parlor and looking out to the Straits of Mackinac is a little bit of a different view this time of year. To the right you see the Visquen covering for the Front Porch which is there to protect it from the winter weather and provide a warm working environment. View from the Dining Room

The famous iconic 660 foot porch is getting a makeover from the stairs walking up to the hotel down to the west end. A total of 340 ft including the front steps is being completely re-done. The east end of the porch will be completed next winter. It is a 2 year project. The porch decking was torn out down to the original wood structure from when the hotel was built in 1887. This is the first time in 50 years the Front Porch is gettting re-done. As you will see below it is almost ready for a green waterproof layer, the last part of the project.

This view is looking east to the front doors of the hotel.

This view is looking east to the front doors of the hotel.

The covering provides warmth and protection.

The covering provides warmth and protection.

Getting back on our snowmobiles we headed down Grand Hill to see the most exciting addition! Sushi Grand! Located next to The Gate House, Sushi Grand will open late May, 2016. The artist Alice Bear Ludwig had just finished painting and stenciling the walls and ceiling. She was hired by Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper & Co. the hotel’s interior designer

Location of Sushi Grand
Sushi Grand will be located right next to The Gate House.

The walls are painted gold with bamboo stencil art. The ceiling has a map of Asia which will have twinkling lights located at every major city. A map of Mackinac Island is also represented.

Mural of Asian on the ceiling.

Mural of Asian on the ceiling.

Bamboo stencil work over gold paint.

Bamboo stencil work over gold paint.

Map of Mackinac Island
Map of Mackinac Island

The coolers were being placed right before we left and we got a sneak peek at the pebble floor that will resemble a wading pool. It is truly a remarkable design and creative masterpiece to represent Grand Hotel’s newest dining option.

Working behind the Sushi bar.

Working behind the Sushi bar.

Pebble floor to be installed.

Pebble floor to be installed.

Next we headed downtown for lunch at Cawthorne’s Village Inn. Cawthorne’s Village Inn is one of two restaurants open year around.

Cawthorne's Village Inn

Bike parking during the summer is well suited for snowmobiles during the winter.

Snowmobile Parking

It is always welcoming to be in a place where everyone knows your name, says hello, and asks how you’re doing. Not many places can make that claim and Mackinac Island is definitely one of those places.

Grand Hotel and Cawthorne's Village Inn Staff

Grand Hotel and Cawthorne’s Village Inn Staff

Lunch with Dan Hosford,  head of the Maintenance department who gets it all done!

Lunch with Dan Hosford, head of the Maintenance department who gets it all done!

After a lunch of Whitefish, Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, Nachos, Sliders, and Soup and Salad we headed downtown to say hello to Andrew Doud of Doud’s Market, the only grocery store on the island. Andrew was working hard on some new displays for the store.

Andrew Doud
Andrew Doud of Doud’s Market chatting with Ken Hayward of Grand Hotel

It takes a lot of staff during the winter to maintain the property in preparation for the 6 months the hotel is open. From May – October Grand Hotel will have 250,000 people walk through its doors and it’s important that every guest who stays with us is given the level of quality and stay they expect and deserve. We are excited to open our doors for the 130th season and between now and then, well we need to get back to work!

Working hard!
See you May!