Missy Ablin, a fellow at Detroit’s Michigan Mellon ArcPrep, was recently showing some architectural drawings to her class. As part of a new program to diversify the discipline and improve arts programming in Detroit Public Schools, some of her students were seeing architectural renderings for the first time. “You can make money from that?” one student asked.
The University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning rolled out the first semester of its college prep program for Detroit Public Schools students, offering 48 students from four schools pro bono architectural education, three hours per day, five days a week. Classes are taken for high school credit, but resemble intro college courses. The school hopes to add another eight students and three schools in the future.
“What’s exciting about this program for us is that we’re able to introduce architecture to Detroit, and to students in Detroit who already have that creative influence flowing,” said the university’s associate dean, Milton Curry.
The “Architecture Prep” program is in addition to an after-school initiative started in 2008 that Curry said has been successful. Beyond the instruction, students get a glimpse of career options and architecture outside the studio.
“We are at a moment where architecture seems to not be valued by society as a cultural agent," Dean Monica Ponce de Leon said. "This is not surprising, given the fact that the arts have been progressively eliminated from K–12 education. It is also not surprising when you think about the fact that practicing architects do not reflect the diversity of the population of our country."
Curry said the program’s larger goal is to chip away at architecture’s diversity problem. The city of Detroit is more than 80 percent African-American, according to U.S. Census data.
“We don’t have the perspective of a broad cross-section of students in school, or in the profession—economically, socially, ethnically, racially—it hampers the intellectual advancement of the discipline as a whole,” said Curry.
With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, University of Michigan has committed to four years of the program, but Curry said he hopes to expand it further.