the rock and roll museum sucks, big time
I recently visited Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s not a terribly good museum, even though it covers a topic, rock and roll, which is very exciting. In this post, I’ll try to figure out what goes wrong.
It always helps to start with a discussion of what museums do. In general, they (a) entertain, (b) educate/inform/indoctrinate, and (c) act as an archive or research center. It’s pretty clear that the R&R Museum isn’t scholarly, so we have to think about how the museum tries to entertain or engage the audience, or tell the audience something.
With respect to engagement, the R&R Museum is very underwhelming. The bottom floor is the big attraction. It has a very old school approach that one might call “worship” model. Get some holy relics, stick ’em up on the wall, and tell people how awesome it all is. It’s not a crazy model. After all, people only show up so they can get a little closer to the divine spirit of the music. But there’s a problem, the physical artifacts of music aren’t terribly interesting. It may be fun to have a section on fancy guitars or drum kits, but room after room is a little boring. Same for clothing, vinyl records, and sheet music. This is different than an art museum where paintings are designed to be stuck on walls and stared at.
Even if we accept the worship model, the R&R Museum has issues. For example, one would think that the inductees would each have a plaque, a photo, and maybe an explanation of what made them special. Instead, we get a wall of signatures etched into glass. Huge disappointment. If we want to hear some music, then there a few kiosks tucked away in a space near an elevator. In other words, the audience wants to really engage with the music and the people, not the costumes. And it doesn’t happen, which is disappointing given that we live in a world of guitar hero games and other forms of interactive music.
What could be done differently? First, I’d ditch the pyramid building, which severely limits space. Instead, rectangular floors with ample space. Second, the main floor would be dedicated to a modernized hall of fame format. The walls would each have a plaque for each inductee, photos, and other stuff. In the center, dozens of kiosks where people could listen to music and watch videos with headphones. Third, additional floors would be built on themes like “the instruments of rock” (famous guitars or weird guitars) or “history of rock” (with interactive guitar hero style kiosks). A top floor would be for more scholarly exhibits, films, or “new developments” (e.g., rock cross overs, hip hop, photography, etc). In other words, build the bulk of the museum on the FUN parts of rock (the music) and touching base with your idols. The “extra stuff” would be for the gear (instruments/costumes) or for experts. Right now, it’s all reversed.