Steward likes to think of UMMA as his baby. A 100,000 square foot baby that cost $50 million and took 7 years to bring to life.
About 3,000 students are waiting in a line for a student preview of UMMA's reopening. Britney Noble is one of them, she's a junior at the University of Michigan. Like most of them, Noble has never stepped foot inside because it's been closed the entire time she's been on campus. Needless to say, Noble is looking forward to having the museum back:
"I think Michigan can be overpoweringly academic and research oriented. I think it's a nice mesh between the art and the science of what we stand for as a university. So I think that's cool."
Once we get inside, the place is packed with college kids. It's like a rave. Case in point? U of M student, Salam Rida:
"I'm assuming there's alcohol around here! I'm just joking, but it wouldn't be far from of it if there was."
There are four levels in the new UMMA. They're filled with 1,900 European, American, Asian and Modern art. There's a big space for temporary exhibits, and an auditorium for visiting writers and performers.
Now the party inside the museum is in stark contrast to what's going on in the arts world outside. Earlier this year, the Detroit Institute of Art had to lay off 20% of its staff to save money. And the Michigan Opera Theater had to cancel a production to stay afloat. Not to mention Governor Granholm's proposals to slash state arts funding and get rid of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries all together.
UMMA's director, James Steward, says that's exactly why UMMA's reopening is such a big celebration:
"My spin on the timing of the opening is that this is an amazingly important time to open a cultural resource. We're a free admission museum. I think we're going to be important for people who might be feeling pinched about other kinds of travel opportunities or entertainment opportunities."
And it doesn't hurt that UMMA sits right smack dab in the middle of campus. Tyler Green says easy access is what makes a successful university museum. Green writes the art blog Modern Art Notes, which the Wall Street Journal says is one of the most influential visual-arts blog around.
"When you put an art museum in the center of campus," says Green, "you give students and others an opportunity to engage with art in the spirit in which it was made. Where it is an essential part of everyday life. That's one of the exciting things about university museums."
U of M's not alone here. Michigan State University is also planning a big renovation of its own art museum, which is slated to open next year.
Green says "if you can find another state in which that's happening, where the two major public universities in the state conducted or are conducting major capital expansion projects, their art museums, I would be floored! That's a pretty unique thing."
Since the majority of funding for the expansion of both U of M and MSU's art museums comes from private donors, Grant says that means arts philanthropy is strong in Michigan. Which is more good news for a state that could always stand to hear a little more.