SOUNDS OF OUR TOWN
CURATING POP: THE ROLE OF PLACE IN EXHIBITING POPULAR MUSIC’S PAST IN MUSEUMS
Between 2010 and 2015, Sarah conducted interviews with museum professionals involved in the collection, preservation and display of popular music’s material culture. Twenty museums featured in the research, running the gamut from large commercial organisations in big cities (e.g. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, USA) to small, do-it-yourself institutions in regional and rural towns (e.g. Hector Country Music Heritage Museum in Hector, New Zealand). Museums in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany and the United Kingdom were represented.
A total of 33 interviews were later analysed by the research team – Sarah, Raph and Lauren (Istvandity) – to explore the structuring concepts that guide curatorial practice in museums and exhibitions of popular music. One of these structuring concepts relates to popular music and place in local, national and global contexts. The team found that whether a museum is situated in a recognised music city (e.g. Nashville, Tennessee, USA) or in a locale not widely known for any specific contributions to a musical form, geographical place was used as a structuring concept to establish a meaningful link for visitors between the museum and its location, and, more broadly, as a way to structure the presentation of artefacts through the creation of place-based narratives in exhibitions.
Our interview data suggests that place can be an integral part of museum planning, both in terms of the physical site of an institution and the role of place in shaping the heritage narratives within. As a structuring concept for exhibitions, place is most clearly evident in those museums whose purpose is to showcase a region’s talents – the sounds of our town – and this is often the case with the halls of fame Sarah visited for the research. In other cases, place finds its way into the rationalisation for a museum’s very existence, such as in the case of the Rock Hall in Cleveland, or provides a jumping off point for curators who wish to showcase the contribution of a region to a greater genre, through either the impact of local or travelling artists.
CURATING POP: EXHIBITING POPULAR MUSIC IN THE MUSEUM
Sarah Baker, Lauren Istvandity and Raphaël Nowak
You can read about how place operates as a structuring concept for curatorial practice in the book Curating Pop: Exhibiting Popular Music in the Museum. Through a consideration of the subjective experiences of curators involved in the exhibition of popular music in museums in a range of geographic locations, this book compares institutional practices internationally, illustrating the ways in which popular music history is presented to visitors. Chapter 4 carries the title 'Popular Music and Place: Local, National and Global Stories' and features curatorial approaches in the Country Music Hall of Fame (Nashville, USA), the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (Macon, USA), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, USA), the Experience Music Project (now MoPOP, Seattle, USA), the British Music Experience (London, UK) and the Walk a Country Mile exhibition (Tamworth, Australia).
If you are interested in learning more about how the 'sounds of a town' feature in popular music museums and exhibitions, check out the following resources.
Adelt, U 2017, ‘Displaying the guitar: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Museum of Pop Culture’, Rock Music Studies 4(3), pp. 207–220.
Baker, S, Istvandity, L & Nowak, R 2019, ‘Popular music and place: local, national and global stories’, in Curating Pop: Exhibiting Popular Music in the Museum, Bloomsbury, London, pp. 55–72.
Fairchild, C 2018, ‘Transcendent myths, mundane objects: setting the material scene in rock, soul, and country museums’, International Journal of Heritage Studies 24(5), pp. 477–490.
Henke, J 2009, ‘From journalism to exhibits: the public classroom of rock and roll’, Journal of Popular Music Studies 21(1), pp. 102–107.
Juchartz, L & Rishoi, C 1997, ‘Rock collection: history and ideology at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’, Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 19 (2-3), pp. 311–332.
Leach, A & Thomas, J 2018, ‘Preserving rock-and-roll history on the North Coast’, in N Guthrie & S Carlson (eds), Music Preservation and Archiving Today, London, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 3–16.
Leonard, M 2018, ‘Representing popular music histories and heritage in museums’, in S Baker, C Strong, L Istvandity & Z Cantillon (eds), The Routledge Companion to Popular Music History and Heritage, London, Routledge, pp. 261–270.
van der Hoeven, A & Brandellero, A 2015, ‘Places of popular music heritage: the local framing of a global cultural form in Dutch museums and archives’, Poetics 51, pp. 37–53.
We acknowledge that the fieldwork for this research was made possible by grant funding from the Australian Research Council (DP1092910 and DP130100317). Co- and partner investigators on DP1092910 who were involved in undertaking some of the interviews analysed in the Curating Pop project included Shane Homan, Peter Doyle, Alison Huber and Motti Regev. A huge debt of gratitude goes to all the museum professionals that gave their time to speak at length about their curatorial practice.