Detroit Historical Society Past>Forward Exhibitions

Detroit Historical Society
Detroit, MI

Prior to 2012, the Detroit Historical Museum had its share of strategic issues. First, the museum’s core permanent exhibitions were more than 20 years old, and several contained outdated content and scholarship. Second, the museum lacked exhibitions that told Detroit’s twentieth century history, providing few opportunities for visitors to personally connect with the city’s past. Lastly, the exhibitions did not adequately reflect the diversity of the Detroit area; new exhibitions were needed to tell a more inclusive history.

To address these issues, the Detroit Historical Society began a five-year $20.1 million comprehensive fundraising campaign. Called Past>Forward, the campaign has enabled the Society to complete a $12 million dollar renovation of the Detroit Historical Museum. As a result, five new permanent exhibitions were developed.

The Society assembled committees of historians, community members and leaders, educators, and volunteers for each exhibition. The committees helped determine target audiences, interpretive approaches and key learning goals. During the design process, the Society ensured the new exhibitions were accessible to visitors of all ages, learning styles and mobility, and maximized the use of objects, images and media and hands-on interactives. Other projects included hiring a Director of Education to create new school programs, beginning a large-scale collections digitization project and developing two new online learning experiences for schoolchildren.

The renovation of the Detroit Historical Museum was one part of a larger mission-related project. Unlike traditional capital campaigns, Past>Forward was designed to bolster both museum infrastructure and programs. To affirm the organization’s relevance in the community, the Society planned the exhibitions with the help of the community, incorporating their stories and voices more completely into the exhibitions.