Celebrating 50 Years

1971 – 2021
Five Decades of Producing & Delivering Discovery

Artrain’s mission is to deliver discovery and, through the power of arts and
creativity, transform lives, organizations and communities.

Artrain was conceptualized by a group of arts activists who believed that the arts should be available to everyone, everywhere. The newly formed state
arts agency, Michigan Council for the Arts (MCA and now, MCACA) started Artrain as its flagship program in 1971. Lead by MCA’s first executive director, Mr. E. Ray Scott and chair, former Michigan first lady Mrs. Helen Milliken, MCA had three goals in mind: 1) to foster the development of local arts organizations throughout Michigan, 2) to provide people in villages, towns and cities access to outstanding art exhibitions and 3)to promote MCA. The founders decided that putting museum quality art on a train and using the rail system to deliver it to towns across Michigan would accomplish its goals. They set out to create Artrain as a short-term – perhaps two-year – project.

In its first year, 191,000 visitors in 28 Michigan communities climbed onboard Artrain’s museum-on-a-train. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) took notice and asked Artrain to share its programs across the country. In 1973 sponsored by the NEA, Artrain headed out on its first national tour to eight-states in the Rocky Mountains. Artrain became an independent nonprofit in 1975.

For the next four decades Artrain delivered arts-based community engagement and development programs on its museum-on-a-train traversing America’s rail system.  It started or strengthened hundreds of regional and local arts agencies it shared award-winning exhibitions, art education programs and the world’s finest artists with millions of people in hundreds of communities across the United States and Canada. Many are now art and creative practitioners, consumers, supporters, advocates and/or volunteers.

Artrain’s exhibition partners and lenders included The Smithsonian Institution, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The National Air and Space Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum and The Heard Museum among countless other cultural institutions of the highest regard. Past exhibition artists have included many of the world’s most recognized and reputed artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Dale Chihuly, Helen Frankenthaler Willem de Kooning, Robert Indiana, Jacob Lawrence, Dan Namingha, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol and James Wyeth. Artrain’s exhibition Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture received the distinguished designation: American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of American Genius by the National Endowment for the Art (NEA.)

Having found Artrain’s projects of the highest integrity numerous government, foundation and private donors supported its mission including, the MCACA, NEA, Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) such as Ford, Hearst, Kresge, Kellogg, MetLife, Mott, Rockefeller, Chrysler and Wells Fargo.

In tribute to its legacy, in 2006 Artrain received the National Medal for Museum Service – the nation’s highest award for institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to communities using that extraordinary and innovative approaches to community engagement and development.

In 2009, as the rail industry restricted access to its railways, Artrain retired and sold its museum-on-a-train. Though the train was gone, Artrain’s mission, experience, commitment to and success of strengthening the field of arts and creativity was not. It shifted its mission, experience, commitment to and success of strengthening the field of arts and creativity into a project management, administrative and fiscal sponsorship services business for local arts agencies, artists, creative workers, organizations and businesses intent on producing and delivering art-infused outreach programs of all types – art, culture, history, science, environment and more – to people in villages, towns and cities and continue to expand personal horizons and strengthen local cultural infrastructure.