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Michigan Central’s art program has gained even greater momentum, as the mobility technology accelerator announced today that it has hired two leaders to drive arts strategy and curation for the expansive 30-acre tech hub. Together, Lauren Ruffin and Kelly Kivland will establish Michigan Central as a place where art and technology interplay to create the extraordinary.

The program will support, produce and present art that encourages discourse and inspires new insights with an emphasis on inclusivity and public engagement. Initiatives will span a wide range of creative expressions that contribute to Michigan Central’s overall cultural vibrancy from public realm installations, to live performances and interactive augmented reality experiences. The first phase of the program included original projects at the Bagley Mobility Hub created by Detroit artists Patrick Ethen, Senghor Reid, DeMaciiio and MasPaz with a theme of celebrating the surrounding communities. The first significant programming under Kivland and Ruffin’s direction will be available to the public beginning this summer.

“Our vision for the Michigan Central art program is to create a platform that celebrates Detroit’s artistic heritage while propelling it into the future, making artists central to the dialogue on mobility, technology, and society,” said Nate Wallace, head of civic partnerships. “Kelly Kivland and Lauren Ruffin are key to realizing this vision, bringing a wealth of experience integrating art and technology into public spaces, design and retail experiences, and digital communities. Their leadership will ensure Michigan Central becomes a beacon of artistic innovation and a global arts destination that reflects the progressive spirit of Detroit, fostering transformative experiences that resonate widely.”

In addition to public art offerings expected to attract visitors from Detroit and around the world, Kivland and Ruffin’s programming will foster an environment for visionary Detroit-based and global artists to redefine creative boundaries and shape new narratives. The initiatives will support experimentation, engage all ages, and involve local communities with and through creative applications of technology. These initiatives will support open dialogue and engagement within Michigan Central’s community and beyond, through talks, summits, residencies, workshops, research and more.

“Detroit has a legacy as a place of creativity, art and innovation,” said Lauren Ruffin, director and lead strategist of the art program. “Our work with the community will not only be for Detroiters, but built with them, ensuring their pride and ideas about the future are reflected,” said Lauren Ruffin, director and lead strategist of the art program. 

The program is funded in part by a $2 million grant awarded by the Knight Foundation in 2023. Michigan Central was one of 10 Detroit arts organizations selected as part of the foundation’s investment in the digital future of the arts in the city. Michigan Central will also continue to raise additional funds to cultivate a world-class platform for expression and presentation.

Director and lead curator Kelly Kivland credits the city as a key source of inspiration in her career, “Like so many, I have been endlessly influenced by the culture of Detroit. Art has the power to deepen social understanding, and Michigan Central is uniquely positioned to shape new models with our communities, nurture creativity, and present world-leading artistic experiences that are accessible to all.” 

Award-winning consultant team, rootoftwo, helped Michigan Central build the initial framework for the art program and continues to advise on the development of upcoming initiatives. The art program is also supported by a group of advisors reflecting a rotation of artists, curators, non-profit and community leaders, and institutional members from the city’s arts and culture scene.

About Lauren Ruffin

Lauren Ruffin (she/her) is Director and Lead Strategist of the Art Program at Michigan Central. She is also Associate Professor of Worldbuilding and Visualizing Futures at Arizona State University where she explores the unprecedented and rapid political and social changes taking place in every facet of our lives, largely due to advances in technology. Her work centers on the best practices organizations and companies should embed to ensure that their platforms are safe, equitable, profitable, and joyful for all users, and particularly users from Black and Indigenous, disabled, and queer communities. Prior to these roles, Lauren co-founded CRUX, an immersive storytelling cooperative that collaborated with Black artists as they create content in virtual reality and augmented reality (XR). She has also served as co-CEO of  Fractured Atlas, the largest association of independent artists in the United States. In 2017, she started Artist Campaign School, an educational program that trained 74 artists to run for political office to date. Lauren has served on the governing boards of Black Innovation Alliance, Black Girls Code, and Main Street Phoenix Cooperative, and on the advisory boards of ArtUp and Black Girl Ventures. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Political Science and obtained a J.D. from the Howard University School of Law.

About Kelly Kivland

Kelly Kivland (she/her) is Director and Lead Curator of the Art Program at Michigan Central. As an interdisciplinary curator and cultural producer active in the field for over twenty years, her collaborative practice explores the intersection of born-digital art, new media, performance, sound, and spatial practice. In her prior roles as Head of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts (2021-2024) and Curator at Dia Art Foundation (2011-2021), she convened a multitude of artists, practitioners, and thinkers to advance critical discussions on the role of art today. Forthcoming and recent projects include Tanya Lukin Linklater’s inner blades of grass (soft), inner blades of grass (cured), inner blades of grass (bruised by weather) (2024); Harold Mendez: one way to transform and two and three (2023); A.K. Burns: Of space we are…(2023); Camille Norment: Plexus (2022); Carl Craig: Party/After-Party (2022); Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth (2020, online); and Occasions and other occurrences hosted by Isabel Lewis(2016). In 2014, she co-founded collective address, a former studio for experimentation across context and media in Brooklyn. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Interarts and Technology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master’s degree from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.