Maureen Devine spearheads a creative effort to expand the art collections on display at Detroit’s expansive Cobo Center.
While most visitors probably don’t think of a convention center as a public place to find interesting works of art, Cobo’s art curator since 2013 is far ahead of an industry trend where similar facilities around the country are now purchasing and displaying local art.
During the center's recent expansion and remodeling, Devine says art became an even more important aspect of the facility, especially new pieces that tell stories about the greater community of southeast Michigan.
Around 17 major works have been added since 2013 and the art curator plans to add more on the walls and in the hallways that are open to the public. A big project underway, for example, is a 30-by-30-square-foot fresco painting by Detroit artist Hubert Massey
Painted onto wet plaster directly, the work is a time line of Detroit that starts more than 300 years in the past and stretches into the city’s future, incorporating such elements as a proposed new Detroit River bridge and highlights from the automotive industry
“We’re hoping this piece could inspire young artists to take up the fresco technique,” says Devine, adding it would be interesting to see Detroit become a fresco destination, similar to Mexico City, with murals on display throughout the community.
With experience in the arts industry since college, Devine brings a diverse background ranging from 10 years on staff at a museum to six years curating art for the North Campus Research Complex at the University of Michigan. She received a master’s degree in art history from Wayne State University.
Her goal for more art at Cobo Center is to share the story of Detroit and spotlight points of community pride with all who enter its doors. Guests from all over the world visit Detroit’s convention center and many are unfamiliar with the city and its history.
“It allows us to highlight local talents. We will include artists who are national or international. We’re not strictly locked in to showing local artists, but that is our main interest,” Devine explains. “It’s something for everybody. We put our art in the common areas, not just in meeting rooms or areas that could be closed off to the public.”
Cobo Center is a convention center first, she says, which means art displays are set up intentionally to work with the positioning of event banners and signage. Devine hopes that the art on display inside the center can direct guests to also visit the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts or other permanent and temporary displays by local artists around the city
“Art has been part of Cobo Center from the very beginning,” Devine says in reference to the noteworthy “Spirit of Transportation” bronze sculpture that was commissioned for the opening of the convention center in 1960. It is one of the last major works by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, who was a mentor to Marshall Fredericks.
And the renewed focus on commissioning and displaying local art hopefully will continue that artistic tradition.