For the recent Detroit Institute of Arts Gala, the iconic museum was transformed by the legendary David Monn, a New York-based event and experience producer with David Monn LLC known for his ability to design for the senses.
As Monn explains, we are the culmination of our senses and our body works not by our brain, but by how the senses are connected beginning with the sense of smell, then sound followed by sight. “This happens in a split second,” he says. “Without that sequence, it’s not a journey.”
As we become engaged, touch and taste complete the circle.
For events, he takes the basic principle and puts it with the purpose, like a birthday or a wedding. “It has to be rooted in something real,” he says. “There is never a theme, but there is absolutely a story and the story is epic.”
Telling your story will take you someplace, says Monn. “When you have the occasion, the purpose and the person and connect all those dots, it always resonates because you’re telling a story that is true from beginning to end,” he says.
At the DIA, the challenge was where to host a party for 750 people when no one room in the museum has that capacity.
Everything came together after meeting with director Salvador Salort-Pons, who wanted to showcase the DIA as the center and heart of the community by turning the museum into the Town Square of Detroit, which would be the first time an event would make use of the entire space including the galleries.
Though his events can take as much as a year of planning only to be over in a matter of hours, they’re incredibly rewarding, says Monn, who counts this occasion among the highlights of his career.
While he first visited the Motor City only a few years ago, Monn’s already a big fan. “There’s extraordinary culture in Detroit and it’s now able to reinvent itself by the passion and the vision and the people,” he says.
For inspiration, he turned to the city’s French roots, which made him envision the European salons where intellectuals came together for enlightenment. Each gallery was furnished with pieces to suit the period and style of the featured collections to feel that connection to the art in a more livable environment.
“The art was not originally created for a museum, it was created for living,” he says. “To actually be able to feel that again brought the museum to a different level.”
For the gala, the Great Hall became a Town Square where there was an initial hint of jasmine fragrance. “The Town Square was where you would bring your trials and tribulations and work it out, and then you triumph, you rejoice,” he says.
Bells were an underlying element throughout the night. In addition to providing a familiar sound, they’re considered a symbol of hope, says Monn. The Capital City Ringers handbell ensemble from Lansing was among the entertainment.
People danced until midnight at the annual fundraiser that was a big success.
Upon entering the Great Hall, guests were greeted by life-size trees and string lights that illuminated the space. The right scale was essential for the 58-foot ceiling, says Monn, “If you don’t do it, everything feels weak. When you do, all feels calm and natural. The scale is kind of grand, but not grand.”
Because Monn prefers to stay pure to the season, fruits and vegetables made an appearance in lieu of flowers.
From the catering, to materials and services like lighting and sound that were sourced from a number of local companies, Monn says it takes a Herculean effort to bring everything together. He has nothing but praise for those who contributed to the magical evening, like the five women co-chairs he calls “extraordinary.”
For those looking to enhance their homes for the holidays, Monn says he has always been about simplicity. “It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means you’ve edited,” he says.
“I’m a monochromatic kind of thinker. I love the use of metallic, but not in glitter and glitz. I love silver and gold and doing it en masse versus in bits and pieces,” says Monn who’s all for spray painting artificial elements in, say, five different shades of gold or even gray for a chic feel that works for any occasion.
For information, go to davidmonn.com. To check out David Monn on Instagram, go to @david_monn.
Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.