RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Rhythm! Discovery Center: The Lifecycle of a Donation by Rob Funkhouser

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 14, 2021

    Receiving donations at the Rhythm! Discovery Center, or any museum for that matter, might seem as trivial as a Goodwill donation under a different banner. In practice, however, it requires a thorough record-keeping apparatus as well as a long-term focus by staff and donors alike. In this article, I will walk through the donation process and shed some light on the reasoning behind the practices. Largely, the process can be thought of in four main phases: acquisition, documentation, storage, and publication. That said, the work in each phase will often overlap with others depending on the object in question.

    The first stage of the donation process, acquisition, begins with initial correspondence. While there have been times where items are spontaneously dropped off at our door, potential donors will most often reach out to PAS to inquire about their intended donation. In the best of circumstances, we will talk over the history of the object, what, if any, ties it has directly to PAS, and under what circumstances the donor would like it conferred to us. We will often request pictures of the object as well as any and all information the donor might have related to the story of the object in regards to its use, its owners, and characteristics of the object that might make it unique from similar items. This information is important in determining how an object might fit into a collection and what its research and exhibition futures might look like. For example, if someone approached us about donating a marimba that was identical in model to something already in our possession, but had been played and maintained much longer through many owners, the object may have a valuable place in the collection to shed light on how long-term maintenance would change two objects of identical make.

    Once this initial correspondence is over, the next step is to plan delivery of the object. As a small institution, this can take many forms, including standard shipping, contracted freight, or even picking up the object ourselves. Regardless of the method, once it is in our care at the museum, intake paperwork is filled out to begin recordkeeping for the object. The overall goal of recordkeeping with regards to objects is consistency of information and organization of the locations thereof.

    Once the object is received, it is taken into temporary custody and issued a receipt showing we have done so. Temporary custody in terms of a museum usually indicates that the object has been taken into the care of the institution pending further action by one or more parties, with this most often being accession into the permanent collection. A temporary custody receipt includes a description of the object, notes about the condition, and information about the donor. This step is important as it is the beginning of the official record of the object that may be referenced later by museum staff. 

    The final step in the initial acquisition of an object is approval of the donation for accessioning by the executive board. In the case of R!DC, this is very often a formality based on staff recommendation. Once this takes place, an official deed of gift is issued, and the object is given a permanent identifier, known as an accession number.

    Once the item is considered to have been permanently accessioned, all of the information from its temporary record is transferred to a permanent object record corresponding to the accession number. From here, there is a good bit of documentation completed within the first few weeks of having the object, including writing new descriptions, taking extensive photographs of the object, and assessing storage needs. A condition report is also filled out at this time to take stock of the physical condition of the object as we received it and make notes of any issues that might need further attention.

    Once an object has been successfully documented, it is prepared for storage. An appropriate space on the shelves is found, and boxing or packaging needs are assessed. As was detailed in a previous post, often times we will make a custom box for an object to help preserve it and shield it from acute environmental changes. 

    The final step in the process is publication of the object record. Right now, this happens in batches whenever we have a good number of items to add to the public facing collection. Making the record public is one way in which the holdings of the museum can be accessed and used by researches from most locations.

    Looking at this process as a whole, the overarching goal of each step is to ensure that records remain consistent and are cared for in the same manner as the object itself. It is our hope that these efforts will help preserve the objects and their context far beyond any individual’s tenure.

  • Rhythm! Discovery Center: Reopening R!DC by Rob Funkhouser and Elizabeth Quay

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 10, 2021

    Hand sanitizer stations, signs about wearing masks and social distancing, and clear plexiglass dividers are all common sights by now. At the Rhythm! Discovery Center, however, adding these things was only a small part of the reopening process. We wanted to ensure that our visitors would still be able to play percussion instruments and have the same interactive experiences that we offered before the pandemic. We were also committed to taking advantage of our long closure to finish up a technology upgrade project that greatly enhanced the use of media in the museum. We’ve been really excited to have visitors back in the space again and we look forward to having you visit when you’re in town for PASIC21.

    So, what does an interactive, hands-on percussion museum look like in the age of COVID-19? Most notably, it includes personal stick bags and a lot fewer hand drums. Instead of placing sticks and mallets throughout the museum, we now give each visiting group sticks and mallets to use during their visit. This has gone exceptionally well, with the unexpected side benefit of a tidier museum. Limiting the amount of hand percussion on display means staff aren’t required to spend quite so much time cleaning, and thanks to a donation of instruments from LP, we upgraded the quality of some of the instruments in our Groove Space exhibit. 

    May 2021 RDC Blog 1

    In 2019, we began an overhaul of the AV system in the museum. In 2009 the museum opened with a centralized system that ran off of DVDs. Ten years later, we thought it was time for a change. This included new projectors, screens, and media players throughout the exhibits that play videos on a loop. We updated several of these prior to reopening, making use of the great performances PAS has captured at PASIC. Also, before reopening, we completely revamped our touchscreens and their content. Touchscreens are great in our museum because visitors can select the content they want to play. This visitor-centered approach also means less ambient sound in an understandably noisy space. Visitors can watch each of the 40 rudiments being played, Glenn Kotche explain a drum part, or Rich Redmond break down a drum set groove. The touchscreen format really shines in Groove Space, with percussionists such as Sarah Thawer, Josh Smith, and Jhair Sala appearing in over 30 videos teaching about orchestral percussion, Latin percussion, and drum set. Every video in the museum has also been captioned, in an effort to maintain a high standard of accessibility. 

    Another improvement was made that all the PAS on-site staff are happy about: new restrooms! After at least ten years, we were overdue for a makeover. The new facilities now feature hands-free fixtures and a sleek black-and-white color scheme.

    The last aspect of our reopening is, of course, the instruments on display. We did a large-scale carpet cleaning that involved moving every single drum, keyboard, cymbal, piece of hardware, etc. If it was on the floor, it was moved. You don’t really realize how many instruments are on display until you move them all in an eight-hour workday. While sadly the Neil Peart R40 kit is no longer on display, we are fortunate to have on loan to us Aaron Spears’ kit from the Ariana Grande Sweetener tour and Keio Stroud’s kit from Big and Rich’s “Peace, Love, and Happy Hour” tour. Rounding out the new drum sets in our Drums and Drummers exhibit is Glenn Kotche’s kit used to record Wilco: The Album and on The Whole Love tour. And of course, our feature exhibit in 2021 is “The Beginning” with Ringo Starr’s first Ludwig kit used from 1963–64 with The Beatles. The exhibit also showcases the iconic “The Beatles” drumhead played on The Ed Sullivan Show. These pieces are generously on loan to us from the Collection of James S. Irsay, and will be on display through 2021. 

    May 2021 RDC Blog

    In a year where many activities have felt like “lite” versions at best, we’re happy to have found a way to make Rhythm Discovery Center available to people in a way that feels fresh, in addition to the safety measures we added. As things continue to improve on a wider scale, the prospects within our museum are feeling better than they have since all of this started.

  • Rhythm! Discovery Center: Thinking About Storage by Rob Funkhouser

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Mar 08, 2021

    It might seem obvious, but one of the main jobs of a museum is to maintain stable storage for the objects in its collection. And, as nice as it would be to just “set it and forget it,” storage is an ongoing project that has to be actively monitored and adjusted depending on the needs of the objects and the realities of the space in which we are working. Over the last two years, RDC has been striving to hone in and improve the conditions in which the PAS collection is housed. These efforts were bolstered in 2019 and 2020 with a grant from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, which operates primarily in the Indianapolis area. 

    Following is a bit about our main collection storage area, how it was originally built and organized, and some of the changes we’ve recently made both to the space and to the housing of individual objects.

    The main collection storage area started off as something of a conundrum when thinking about long-term care of the collection. On the one hand, it was beautiful to be able to walk through the space and see the bulk of the collection facing you. The shelves themselves were grated, so you could see up into the upper shelves, and as you walked down the corridors, it felt at times like there was no end to what you might find if you just looked hard enough. On the other hand, pretty much everything about the safety of the objects themselves was in question: There was no protection of individual objects from changes in temperature or humidity, metal grate shelves are, well, metal and posed a risk to many objects when they needed to be moved, and the shelving arrangement necessitated a single-layer approach to most shelves, which cost a lot of space in the long run.

    RDC Pic 1

    Over the last few years, the space has changed in a few significant respects. First, a humidifier was installed to maintain consistent relative humidity (in denial of the fact that we’re in the Midwest), which will help to prevent degradation and cracks in wooden objects. Second, many shelves have also been lined with coroplast, an archival-grade corrugated plastic that will allow for easier movement of objects and eliminates the risk posed by the exposed metal grate. The third major improvement was to house objects in the collection in their own boxes that protect from changes in the environment and long-term damage from light exposure.

    RDC Pic 2


    This last aspect of the project, rehousing the objects in archival quality boxes, required a large amount of time, materials, and setup. While this had been happening in the background, in pretty much any space the staff could occupy, the main push of rehousing objects came in the summer of last year when we were unable to reopen to the public. We set up a work area in the center of the museum and began to group objects, photograph them, and put them into their new homes. The boxes themselves are all made of archival-quality acid-free cardboard, and are a mix of custom sizes and off-the-shelf sizes available in bulk. To date, over 800 objects have found their way into boxes, which covers over 60% of the collection. These boxes have also found their way back onto the shelves in the storage area, all with locations on record, which was another improvement made during this project.

    RDC Pic 3


    As of now, there are still many objects that will need to be rehoused over the coming months, and we have relocated our once ad hoc workshop to a more permanent location in the green room of the museum. This will allow us to finish rehousing the objects in the current collection and to make this kind of protection part of the process for new objects as they reach us. This project as a whole, including both the improvements to the collection storage area as well as the new levels of protection for individual instruments and objects is laying the groundwork for the next several years at the museum.

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Percussive Arts Society
110 W. Washington Street Suite A 
Indianapolis, IN 46204
T: (317) 974-4488
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