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March 21, 2005


There was a report today in the Seattle P-I about the Experience Music Project, a museum in Seattle bankrolled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The EMP is the crazy-looking building at the Seattle Center, designed by Frank Gehry (the building also houses the Science Fiction Museum, including the new home of the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame).

The articles are about how the EMP is five years old, is losing money and customers, and may go out of business. That scenario may be a bit far-fetched, but no question that the museum has not been successful as had been hoped. The most interesting point that the article makes is in this quote: "Whereas most non-profits tend to sprout from small, grass-roots efforts, EMP just sort of appeared, wholly formed, on Seattle's doorstep". It's true. There was no local music movement that scrimped and saved to built the EMP and now feels devoted to it. Paul Allen, who is a big fan of rock music in general and Jimi Hendrix in particular, simply willed it into existence.

I have been to the EMP a few times. It's interesting and the exhibits are technologically well-done, but we go to the museums that our kids like, and it doesn't appeal to them yet. For one thing it is too loud. They like Odyssey and MOHAI and the Children's Museum and the Pacific Science Center, and sometimes the Zoo or the Aquarium or Imagine if we feel like making the drive.

But Seattle does have a thriving music scene, certainly more thriving than Cleveland (for popular music, anyway), and you would think the city could support the EMP.

Posted by AdamBa at March 21, 2005 10:13 PM

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The main reason EMP isn't successful is that it's, err, boring. I love museums. I love music. I have more Hendrix discs than I can count. Still, EMP doesn't have that kind of "catch" that would make me go there a second time.

Posted by: Ziv Caspi at March 22, 2005 06:15 AM

I agree with Ziv, its pretty boring, and I was surprised at the apparent lack of Nirvana content there. They had hendrix, beatles, bob dylan, and a "Pop" section of all things! Barely any mention of a very influential Seattle band. I guess after learning that it was funded by a single person its easy to understand why there might be a slant.

p.s. it was also kind of expensive I thought, $20

Posted by: ben at March 22, 2005 08:01 AM

Interesting comment. Maybe the museum tries too hard to live up to the exterior (which I also like).

$20 is expensive. But we tend to become members of museums we like so that's not an issue.

The Sci-Fi museum is worth seeing once, but it's just artifacts, nothing interactive. There is some interesting stuff about fandom.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at March 23, 2005 04:36 PM

The answer is a lot simpler than any of what you guys have suggested ... but Adam hit it with his last comment. Both the EMP and the Sci-Fi Museum are "once you've seen it, you've seen it" sort of museums. There is absolutely no reason to go back a second time, unlike with traditional art museums. Why? Because it's MUSIC. You can hear it anywhere. Art you HAVE to go to a museum to see. Same with sci-fi ... there's a whole channel on cable for it. The artifacts are neat to see, but they aren't THE experience.

It stuns me that a man as smart as Paul Allen couldn't figure this out before spending the money on it. I could have told you from Day 1 (and I actually DID, because I was there opening day and told Allen this) that they would simply not get the repeat business they would need to keep the business model viable.

Posted by: Rob Stevens at March 24, 2005 10:15 PM

The collection on display at the EMP represents a small fraction of the huge warehouse of rock memorabilia the museum owns. I have been an EMP member since the grand opening, but recently I decided to let the membership lapse because the collection simply doesn't turn over often enough to justify repeated visits.

Posted by: Nate Fisher at March 30, 2005 10:48 AM