If you’ve ever cracked open the back page of any issue of Percussive Notes, you are aware that PAS runs a museum, the Rhythm! Discovery Center, in downtown Indianapolis. R!DC houses the large collection of instruments that PAS has gathered over several decades and serves as the main arm for community outreach in the Indianapolis area. Over the last three years, museum operations have matured on most relevant fronts, with major support coming in for collections management, museum remodeling, and partnerships with arts organizations around Indianapolis. In 2019 especially, certain aspects of the museum were humming, having served over 20,000 visitors, including 5,000 students who were able to attend at no cost, and curating 29 performances both in the museum and in other public spaces. In this blog entry, the first in a series covering current activities at R!DC, I will give an overview of the last few years of growth, and recap the strange productive environment of 2020.
In terms of the last few years of growth, R!DC received support from local and national foundations including the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, the Grammy Foundation, the Eli Lilly Foundation, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This support has led to projects including cataloging the Gerhardt Collection of 78s, revamping and improving the collection storage capability and conditions in the museum, and redesigning much of the interactive media throughout exhibits in the museum. All of these projects will be covered in greater depth in future entries in Rhythm! Scene.
Working in a museum, especially a small specialized one like R!DC, is a balancing act between day-to-day operations and long-term projects, as everyone tends to wear a lot of proverbial hats in the course of work. There are always lists of things to do at any given time, and navigating priorities is part of the normal course of each day. During a typical year, slow movement on long-term projects is complemented by the flurry of activity of daily operations. In terms of the museum, this typical way of working was turned inside out in 2020, with progress on long-term projects becomming the occupation of daily work, as operational duties were lightened by the museum being closed to the public.
When staff was able to access the museum, we turned the whole place into our work area, spreading out projects over a large part of the space that is usually part of the exhibits. (See the accompanying pictures to get an idea of a bit of that madness.) In spreading out, the staff was able to process a large number of objects from being stored loose on shelves to being boxed, placed on more protective shelving, and entered into the collection database. To accomplish this, an assembly line was set up to pull an object from its resting place, make sure it was properly numbered and tagged, photograph it, update the description and metadata, box it (often in custom built boxes), and find a new place for it in collection storage. The staff accomplished what would normally be a few years’ worth of work based on normal time constraints in just a few months.
All told, over 800 objects were processed and are now living in new, better protected homes in the collections storage area, as shown in the accompanying photo. Following this push, staff followed up with research to bolster the data already in the collections database and continued cleaning the information for inclusion in the newly available online collection. As of now, most of these freshly processed objects are available to view at rhythmdiscoverycenter.pastperfectonline.com. I would encourage anyone who is interested to check out that site, and click around some random object records to get a feel for how the digital collection is taking shape, and to get some insight into what is held at the museum.
Collection Storage Shelf
In a series of R!S Blog posts this year, I will be detailing some of the other projects from the last few years that have helped shape Rhythm! Discovery Center into a more capable and agile branch of PAS, as well as detailing how things develop throughout the year. Be sure to also look for articles in Percussive Notes that will detail some of the archives projects that have been happening this past year.