The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland is entering its eighth year. It's hard to believe it was that long ago that I was covering the opening for WENZ, and interviewing Chief Curator Jim Henke about the exciting new shrine.
With the nominations for 2003 recently announced, the blockbuster John Lennon exhibit about the close, and a new U2 exhibit in the works for early next year, it was a good time to check in on Jim and the Rock Hall.
- EO: How well has the Rock Hall fulfilled its mission so far?
JH: We just passed our seventh anniversary, and in the museum world, we're still a baby. That said, I think we've made some significant strides. The exhibits have changed a lot, and I'd say we've changed about 80% of them since we opened. There are many, many more artifacts on display than when we opened, and I think the whole vibe is more exciting. We've also done some very successful special exhibits. Our first one, on the psychedelic era, was very thorough and we got the participation of several of the musicians, artists, etc., from that era. We also did the first-eve hip-hop exhibit, which has been traveling around the country since it closed here. It's been in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and there's a chance it will be going to London next year. We also did a collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art called Rock Style — most museums in the world would die to be able to collaborate with such an august museum. That exhibit was in Cleveland, New York and Columbus. And our John Lennon exhibit was the most comprehensive exhibit on a Beatle. We've also done some terrific programming, and we are planning to build a library and archives sometime in the next few years. If we keep going at this pace, I think we will be able to be very proud.
EO: What does a curator do?
JH: My job is basically to oversee the content of the museum. That includes everything from deciding what exhibits to do, what artifacts to collect, and how to display them to working with filmmakers on the content of the video elements of the museum and working with the computer folks on the content of the interactive displays. We are different from many museums in that we don't have a big budget to buy artifacts, so virtually everything we exhibit is either on loan or is a gift. Most of the artifacts come from the musicians themselves, their families, their managers, etc., so a big part of my job is to establish and maintain relationships with those people. For example, both our Jimi Hendrix exhibit and our John Lennon exhibit resulted from our good relationships with the Hendrix family and with Yoko Ono. We also encourage musicians to visit the museum when they are in Cleveland for a concert. I've found that once artists see the museum, they have a better understanding of what we are doing and they are far more likely to donate artifacts. About 99% of the artists who visit love the museum.