"The Spaceship" lands at MSU: $45 million art museum opens

Nov 9, 2012

Michigan State University opens its $45 million contemporary art museum this weekend.

But even the building's creators say they're not sure whether the community will like it.

Students already have a nickname for the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum: "the spaceship."

“"It looks pretty spacey,” says student Will Peltier, taking out his ear buds to remark on the building. “Kinda like something that NASA would create. It's like, real sharp looking."

Emily Arin mans the register at In Flight Sports, a store stocked with disc golf supplies and glass bongs – locally made, of course.

"It looks like a big alien rock thing, out of nowhere,” she says. “Because you have, like, the old school, eighteen-hundred [era] buildings in the background, and then you have this like, futuristic, jagged thing."

This 46,000 square foot museum is a statement, and a risk. It's a sharp, lunging rectangle of slanting steel fins. There are pieces by Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, but also psychedelic, abstract video installations, and a row boat made entirely of Vietnamese salt.

Eli Broad is the MSU alum who gave $28 million to create the museum, which bears his name. Silver-haired at age 71, he knows there's both anticipation and trepidation about the opening.

"It's a shock of the new. And they're critical of it, and wonder about it, but after a year or two or three, they think it's the greatest thing in the world."

MSU's economic impact report estimates the museum will bring in $5.75 million dollars a year for the town. But the report also notes that East Lansing’s entertainment and retail sector is decidedly more “casual” than the typical contemporary art fan might enjoy.

Take, for example, In Flight Sports, the disc-golf/stoner haven: right across from the museum, it’s sandwiched on East Grand between burger joints, Spartan gear sellers and fast-food chains.  

Broad says he expects a boutique hotel or even a few art galleries to spring up as people visit the museum.

And the economic report also predicts several thousand new, museum-bound visitors will make their way to East Lansing every year. Whether that will bring a new class of establishment to East Grand Avenue, the college town’s central artery, remains to be seen.