Detroit Institute of Arts Names African American gallery for Roy and Maureen Roberts

Contemporary African American art gallery named in honor of gift to museum

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) has named a gallery of contemporary African American art after Maureen and Roy S. Roberts. Roy Roberts is a retired General Motors (GM) group vice president, and he and Maureen Roberts are well-known philanthropists in the areas of the arts, culture and education.

“We are delighted to name a gallery after Maureen and Roy, whose generous gift will help us continue to provide our community with imaginative, high-quality programs and exhibitions,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “Their support affirms the role art plays in enhancing the quality of life and the named gallery is a wonderful legacy for their family.”

The DIA is the only encyclopedic fine arts museum in the world with a curatorial department devoted to African American art. The Maureen & Roy S. Roberts gallery is one in a suite that chronicles the development of modern and contemporary African American art, and features works by such prominent artists as Benny Andrews, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Alvin Loving, William T. Williams, Joyce Scott, Richard Hunt and Charles McGee, among others.

The curatorial department, named the General Motors Center for African American art, was established in 2000 and Valerie Mercer, formerly senior curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, was hired as its curator in 2001. The museum also features works by 19th-century African American artists in the American art wing, as well as African American works interspersed throughout the contemporary art galleries.

“Maureen and I have always loved the arts and realize the cultural importance of museums like the DIA, both to our community and for future generations,” said Roy Roberts. “We leave this legacy with our children, to whom we’ve instilled the values of education, working hard and giving back. We are happy to celebrate this milestone with them.”

The Roberts’ philanthropy extends to other cultural and educational organizations as well. They were major contributors to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History when that museum was fighting for its survival, and have given generously over the years to the United Negro College Fund, NAACP, Urban League and Western Michigan University (WMU), among many others.

For more than 20 years, Ms. Roberts’ career focused on nursing and health care. She studied at the former Mercy Central School of Nursing in Grand Rapids, Michigan and became a registered nurse. She subsequently earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a Master of Arts in Health Education and Occupational Education from University of Michigan. She was supervisor of Health Education and Health Services for the Grand Rapids Public School District, and was a coordinator in the Corneal Transplant Program for the Michigan Eye Bank.

Ms. Roberts served on the boards of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and Visiting Nurses Association and was active on the DIA’s Volunteer Information Committee for several years. She was a co-chair for the museum’s annual gala fundraiser, Under the Stars.

Mr. Roberts is currently managing director and co-founding member of the successful private equity investment firm Reliant Equity Investors. However, for more than three decades, he was a trailblazer, leader and mentor of unrivaled distinction in the global automotive industry.

Mr. Roberts began his General Motors career in 1977 as a salaried employee-in-training at GM’s former Diesel Equipment Division in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After moving through various positions of increasing responsibility, in 1981 he became plant manager of GM’s Grand Rapids Plant #1. In 1983, he became the first African American plant manager of GM’s assembly facility in North Tarrytown, New York, a major milestone for GM, Roberts and African Americans. At Tarrytown, Mr. Roberts forged lasting mentoring and subordinate career-development techniques that were of particular help to people of color.

Mr. Roberts also “blazed the trail” for African Americans at GM by becoming the first African American vice president and corporate officer in charge of Personnel Administration and Development; general manager of Field Sales, Service and Parts; and group vice president, North American Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing (NAVSSM).

Mr. Roberts left GM to become vice president for Truck Operations and chief operating officer at Navistar International Corporation, but was recruited back to GM as manufacturing manager for the Cadillac Motor Car Division. After two years, he was promoted to manufacturing manager for GM’s former Flint Automotive Division, and held that position until becoming vice president of the GMC Truck Division. At GMC, Roberts undertook the planning and oversight of the merger of GM’s Pontiac Division with the GMC-Truck Division, an arrangement that generated huge profits and great savings for General Motors and its dealers.

Mr. Roberts remained in the critically important position of group vice president of NAVSSM until he retired in 2000—after more than 23 years at GM, and nearly 40 years in the automotive industry. When asked to reflect on his groundbreaking career, Mr. Roberts noted in the Wall-Street Journal “… I’ve never had a job that I disliked. I’ve never had a job I did not grow from. It’s been a good journey.”

Among the numerous awards and recognition during his stellar career are: the American Success Award, presented by President George W. Bush in the Rose Garden at the White House; the Detroit Chapter of the American Jewish Communities “Human Relations Community Service Award”; named “Executive of the Year” by Black Enterprise magazine; named “Automotive Executive of the Year” by African Americans on Wheels magazine; inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame; and honored as a “Distinguished Warrior” by the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan.

Mr. Roberts received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan and completed graduate work at WMU and Detroit’s Wayne State University. He completed the Executive Development Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business, and the General Motors Advanced International General Management Program in Switzerland. He has also been awarded a number of honorary doctorate degrees.

Mr. Roberts is trustee emeritus at WMU and was recently a board member of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Abbott Laboratories, and Enova Systems Corporation. He recently served as president of the national board of the Boy Scouts of America and as chairman of a National Scout Jamboree. Roberts has been a board member of the Morehouse School of Medicine, president of the Grand Rapids NAACP, and on the national boards of the United Negro College Fund, The Aspen Institute and the National Urban League, where he chaired national conventions in San Diego and Atlanta.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera’s world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA’s collection is known for its quality, range, and depth. The DIA’s mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Programs are made possible with support from the City of Detroit.

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