Arizona ArtBeat: MIM Fifth Anniversary

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The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a weeklong series of public events. We’ll take you on a video tour of the museum, then, April Salomon, executive director of MIM, will tell us more about the impact of the museum.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona ArtBeat" looks at the Musical Instrument Museum which tomorrow celebrates its fifth anniversary. The museum features a massive and unique collection of instruments from around the world, we'll hear from the MIM's executive director in a moment. But first, Shana Fischer and photographer Scot Olson gives us tour.

Shana Fischer: One of the first things you notice about the musical instrument museum is the silence. Ironic for a museum devoted to all things musical. MIM as it's called was built in 2010 by the former CEO of target stores. Manuel Jordan, the chief curator has been with the museum for four years.

Manuel Jordan: To me, it's a repository of human experience. You can go display by display by display and tap into different cultures and different languages. And experience that human sense of emotion and engagement with music, it's a wonderful thing.

Shana Fischer: At 200,000 square feet, it boasts one of the largest and most complete collections of instruments representing 200 countries.

Manuel Jordan: We currently own about 15 to 16,000 musical instruments and items of clothing and contextualizing elements that we have in the collection.

Shana Fischer: Jordan and his staff have about 6,000 of those items on display in eight exhibits organized geographically. There are items you'd expect, a tribute to John Lennon, and one to Elvis, but there's also horns and strings from Europe, drums from Latin America. And clothing and instruments from all parts of Africa. Guests wear wireless headphones that activate a video as soon as they step up to the display. They show the instruments in their original environment. It took five years and 200 consultants from all over the world to curate the instruments, clothing and other items. One of the most treasured pieces was a private donation, this ancient drum from China.

Manuel Jordan: It's from about 4,000 B.C. so that makes it about 6,000 years old. It's a fragile, small terracotta ceramic. It no longer has the membrane or the skin on it but it speaks to the longevity of many of the instruments that have been around since before human beings became human beings.

Shana Fischer: With a collection of instruments that are very old, it's important to take care of them. MIM has a full-time conservatory staff dedicated to the repair and upkeep of these precious relics. While most of the items have a hands off policy, there are two places guests are encouraged to unleash their talent. In the experience gallery it's all about making music.

Shana Fischer: And in the entrance lobby sits a Steinway piano, available to the public.

Shana Fischer: There's also a Steinway room with an actually piano blown apart so you can see the detail and hard work. It takes a year to craft a piano all by hand with these simple tools. Also on the lower level is the mechanical instrument display. These are instruments that play themselves like nickelodeons.

Shana Fischer: While the instruments are the main reason for visiting MIM, the architecture is also part of the experience. Jordan says a great deal of thought went into it.

Manuel Jordan: The architecture is just gorgeous, meant to blend with the southwest environment. It's elegantly done. It takes little hints and clues from the environment we have beautiful corridors on the first and second floor we call a Rio, inspired by river beds. Through that the architects that worked in this building includes some subtle accents that kind of indicate parts of musical instruments like frets or strings in the balconies and verandas. It's a blending of nature but also musical keys that blend together real nicely.

Shana Fischer: Even the location was carefully chosen.

Manuel Jordan: Phoenix is just like one of the top, largest U.S. cities. It's a point where we get a lot of tourism. People come through here to go to the Grand Canyon or Los Vegas or transit into California.

Shana Fischer: But MIM isn't just about exhibits. There's also a 300-seat theater. Local musicians and indie artists fill up the calendar. Jordan says MIM offers a complete musical journey for everyone. That's because music resonates with all of us.

Manuel Jordan: You are constantly reminded of who you are as an individual, your own experience with music, but also facing the diversity of other cultures and their own take on music, often very similar and sometimes it's something different that makes you think about who you are and how you want to engage with the rest of the world.

Ted Simons: Here now with more on the Musical Instrument Museum is the MIM's executive director April Salomon. April, good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

April Salomon: A pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: It's one of the few places I can say the MIM and everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about. Are you surprised at the success of this place?

April Salomon: I'm not, actually, not when I think about the experience we're offering our guests. It's really incomparable, unlike anything else in the world and certainly in the valley. I think it's a place for everyone and we've heard that over and over again. In fact, the coined phrase is I was blown away when I went to MIM.

Ted Simons: Yeah! What are people most blown away at?

April Salomon: Probably by the breadth and depth of the collection, the exhibits that they are seeing, sort of this idea that we're representing music and music culture from every country and territory in the world. And so they are not quite prepared for that. They have an idea of what we might be and yet at the end of the day they have had a full, full experience, more than they could have anticipated.

Ted Simons: Are there exhibits that seem to get the best reviews?

April Salomon: Oh, certainly, there are some fan favorites. We have a few displays as a result of partnerships with Steinway and Sons, Martin Guitar and Fender. They are the most recognizable instruments. We've created an immersive experience in those areas and that tends to be the fan favorite. However I also hear guests who have not been able to get out of the Africa gallery for a couple of hours. It really depends on your interests.

Ted Simons: As far as the instruments are concerned where do you get them?

April Salomon: All over the world as you might imagine, we really do have to source the most authentic instruments and the best of their kind. Whether they travel for those instruments or we use consultants to bring them to us and source them, we have a variety of methods to our madness.

Ted Simons: I'll bet you do. And as far as the selection process for what exactly is displayed? As a curator, goodness gracious, there are so many instruments.

April Salomon: It's a treasure trove for the curators as a matter of fact. They do have to make some very difficult selections. That's part of the magic, as well. Things will be ever changing. We've probably found a better example a few months later. There are over 15,000 instruments and objects in our collection and we have lots to choose from. We can keep refreshing the experience, all the time.

Ted Simons: From year one, to now how has it changed?

April Salomon: It's changed tremendously. Our exhibits and programs have expanded more than we could have anticipated but in the best possible way, for example, when we opened in 2010, we had 173 fully formed exhibits for display. Now we have over 370. Many of the programs we would have done are signature cultural events. We started out quarterly and now we're doing one a month, they are being very well received.

Ted Simons: You have an "Experience MIM" coming up this week, what's that all about?

April Salomon: We do, well this is our fifth anniversary, which we are very happy to celebrate, so we've created a series of events this week leading up to and culminating over a weekend celebration. We have free cupcakes for the first hundred or so visitors in celebration, but we always have performances, we have a themed menu in our café, we have some special impromptu performances. And of course we have a fifth anniversary video playing in a theater all day long. It kind of is a look back and a look ahead.

Ted Simons: That's great. You know we were talking earlier about concerts there and performance artists and such. The Kronos Quartet sound like they are built for a place like this, they've played there haven't they?

April Salomon: Indeed, they did play there. We are fortunate enough to have been loaned some of their instruments for an actual display in our artist gallery, and they will be back to play in the theater again. That's really kind of the crown jewel of the institution, we put on over 200 performances annually.

Ted Simons: When these artists come in, what kind of reaction do you get from them. Visitors are obviously blown away, but the artists that come in, they are used to playing everything from a dive bar to a concert house. What do they think about the museum?

April Salomon: Or a stadium.

Ted Simons: Exactly.

April Salomon: They are equally blown away. We spared no detail in the VIP dressing room and the green room, in the areas where typically it's cinder blocks, and folding chairs. They are pretty excited about what we're offering, as far as the acoustical experience in the theater, and in fact some of the artists have been quoted saying, "it's the best 300-seat venue in the country."

Ted Simons: I don't think anyone would be able to argue with that. Well congratulations on five years, people talk about this place and the impact on the valley is strong, isn't it?

April Salomon: I would say it's raised Phoenix's profile as an arts and cultural location.

Ted Simons: That's a good thing.

April Salomon: Yes, it is.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much.

April Salomon: It's my pleasure.

April Salomon:Executive Director, Musical Instrument Museum;

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