Detroit’s Cultural Center Set to Install Free, Outdoor Public Wi-Fi in 2021

Detroit’s Cultural Center Planning Initiative [CCPI] was awarded a one-year $500,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help create a comprehensive digital strategy, including installation of free, outdoor public Wi-Fi in 2021 throughout the Cultural Center. The Knight Foundation grant also supports capacity building and the development of infrastructure and technological uses inside the Cultural Center.


“Not only will this grant support the installation of free, public Wi-Fi in the district, it will also support collaboration, risk-taking, and experimentation within Detroit’s Cultural Center for place-based, digital transformation,” Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc. [MDI], who has been leading the CCPI over the last 18 months, said in a press release.


In a partnership with Wayne State University’s [WSU] Computing and Information Technology Department [WSU C&IT] and rootoftwo, free outdoor wireless will be offered in Detroit’s Cultural Center—an area that includes CCPI stakeholder institutions: The Carr Center, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Public Library, Hellenic Museum of Michigan, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan Science Center, The Scarab Club, University of Michigan and Wayne State University, the press release added.


The wireless system will be an extension of WSU’s existing campus system and will help attract visitors to the district and boost more outdoor programming while providing accessible public Wi-Fi for audiences throughout the area outdoor spaces. Additional funding to support this system was provided by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, according to the release.

The Knight Foundation grant also supports the development of digital capacity workshops focused on the creation of new digital experiences and will work alongside small grants for the stakeholder institutions to test ideas. 


Cultural Center Planning Initiative [CCPI] map of Midtown Detroit.

Photo provided by CCPI

Cézanne Charles, partner at rootoftwo, a hybrid design studio, said in the press release, “We are excited to lead on the digital strategy for the Cultural Center Planning Initiative. The pandemic-related closures accelerated the way institutions were experimenting with digital technologies to engage audiences. This grant allows us to build on those successes to develop additional capacity for the CCPI organizations while piloting compelling digital forms of creative expression, storytelling, and audience experiences in 2021 and beyond.” 


Since the start of the COVID-19 state of emergency, Midtown Detroit, Inc. and the 12 stakeholder institutions worked together on their collective re-opening this past July with guidance from NSF International. The district developed shared protocols while helping institutions deliver their core missions. “The COVID-19 crisis has created a moment of opportunity for digital transformation,” Mosey added. 


“As we try to reimagine ourselves digitally, we are also trying to reimagine the Cultural Center physically to create more welcoming spaces designed for outdoor programming and that further connect our institutions. It is MDI’s hope that the digital and the physical can complement each other and be deemed equally important. We are well aware that we are in difficult economic times. Our CCPI strategy is one that is meant to span over the next 10-15 years and is designed to be implemented in phases as funds become available and as institutional will is emboldened.”


The grant from the Knight Foundation will support:


  • Digital Infrastructure
    • Extend WSU wireless system to the Cultural Center.
    • Develop pop-up video screens tied to institutional programming to consider the future placement of permanent screens for the district.
  • Digital Capacity
    • Develop a series of workshops for stakeholder institutions focused on the creation of new digital experiences that will be accompanied by small grants to test ideas.
  • Digital Visitor Experiences 
    • Develop a new brand and website for the Cultural Center that reinforces it as a significant destination, online, and offline.
    • Showcase the value of these technology enhancements at the Dlectricity festival in 2021.



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