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Arts Alive! In Ann Arbor, Michigan

By Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel 

Small cities often surprise me with the unexpected. Ann Arbor left me with my mouth wide open in awe. Located a mere 43 miles west of Detroit, the college town has superseded the larger city in many of the fine arts.


Bob Seger’s song, Mainstreet, recalls a moment in his hometown of Ann Arbor. The pop music scene has exploded since then, leading the Midwest in the musical styles of acoustic, rock, jazz, alt and techno.

When I was in Ann Arbor, guitarist Marshall Crenshaw and his band, The Battle Rockets, were playing at The Ark. Crenshaw, a Michigan native, is also known as a rock pop singer. In addition to his music, he acted in the film, La Bamba, filling the role of Buddy Holly.

Over at The Blind Pig, The Smiths United, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and DJ Josh Burge were shaking it up. The Smiths United hail from Detroit, and replicate the early sound of the British alt band, The Smiths. On the other hand, the Banshees began in London as a punk rock band, and contributed greatly to the birth of othic rock. DJ Josh Burge founded Plastic Passion, and is famous for playing 80s dance music.


Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theater in Ann  Arbor, Michigan
Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theater
Live theatre

Soon after arriving in Ann Arbor, I attended a matinee at the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea (a neighboring village) that was founded by actor Jeff Daniels, who comes from Chelsea. He chose his hometown to fulfill his vision of offering the New America play, produced and performed by Midwesterners.

The seats in the small theater wrap the audience around three-quarters of the stage, creating an intimate connection to the actors. As I sat in the first row, I could almost reach out and touch the performers. The plot of the play, 33 Variations, switched between Ludwig van Beethoven in the 19th century and a present day musicologist who both struggle to work out the complexities of this composition. The performance and the production were top-rate.

The replica of the room from the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
The replica of the room from the
Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy.

With more than 18,000 works of art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art has 94,000 square feet of exhibition space, making it the largest university museum in the country. I was impressed by the works on paper by German Expressionist and the paintings of the American Impressionists -- two of my favorite art movements. Their collection of Asian ceramics is outstanding, along with the Tiffany windows, acquired from New York’s Havemayer estate. The museum also has an exciting acquisition of Modern Art masterpieces, by artists like Ben Shaun, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Stuart Davis and many others.

An Egyptian sculpture at the
Kelsey Museum of Archeology.


The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (also located on the university campus) houses many superb representations of ancient sculpture, ceramics and other artwork. Objects from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Middle East and Mediterranean cultures are among its 100,000 artifacts. Don’t miss the Egyptian statues and mummy cases, and the display of decorated vases from Greece.  The most amazing display is the replica of a room from the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, Italy.

Although a research museum since 1928, the Kelsey also presents special temporary exhibits on loan from other national and international museums.



"The Wave"  at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
 "The Wave" by sculptor Maya Lin.
Public art

Few larger cities have the extensive array of outdoor sculpture that’s found on the north campus of the University of Michigan. The campus displays contemporary three-dimensional artwork on sidewalks, lawns and in the lawn itself. Maya Lin, who created the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, has designed a unique piece, named The Wave, which undulates under a plot of grass. It’ll make you, like me, want to roll around its lumps and bumps. The red metal angles of Begob, by Alexander Liberman, stand out brightly in front of dark green foliage. A huge black twist of modern sculpture by Clement Meadmore (2007), Hob Nob, is one of the newest acquisitions. The public is invited to tour the campus and enjoy those and many more like them.

Art lovers must put Ann Arbor at the top of their bucket lists because the small American city is worth the trip.



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