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.
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.
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.