Grammy Museum rolls on despite recession

Opening a museum can be a daunting task in the best of times, but launching one during a recession can seem downright crazy. Yet one year after the December 2008 commencement of the Grammy Museum, its continued growth is well under way.

The four-story, 30,000-square-foot museum is part of L.A. Live, a rejuvenated area of downtown Los Angeles whose development is overseen by concert promoter AEG Live, which runs the adjacent Nokia Theater and Staples Center.

“The single most important thing we wanted to do the first year was begin to establish our roots in the L.A. cultural community and demonstrate how we would make a difference in this city,” said exec director Robert Santelli.

The museum achieved that goal in myriad ways, including 60 public events, and ushering 10,000 school children through its halls as part of its educational outreach. Total attendance over the past year was 85,000, about 15,000 lower than Santelli’s projections.

The institution celebrates 150 genres of music as opposed to one particular sound. “You couldn’t come into the Grammy Museum and say, ‘You don’t even mention the word polka or tejano,’” Santelli said.

In addition, the Grammy Museum’s artifact collection is geared toward current musicmakers, as opposed to historic figures.

Besides the 500 or so artifacts, the Grammy Museum prides itself on its interactive elements and won the Gold Award for interactive kiosks at this year’s American Assn. of Museums’ Muse Awards.

Artists such as Smokey Robinson, the Jonas Brothers, Dave Matthews Band, Brian Wilson, Dwight Yoakam and Harry Connick Jr. have participated in programs for the museum, many of them held in its 200-seat theater. Better yet, many acts “have opened their checkbooks as well,” says Santelli, or performed a benefit for the museum.

The contributions from the artists are vital because despite the name and a shared parent in NARAS, the Grammy Museum receives no money from the Grammys, other than proceeds from 2008′s Grammy nominations concert that coincided with the museum’s opening.

Funding for the annual $6.4 million budget comes from corporate sponsorship, private donations, membership (at 2,000 and rising), admission fees and the retail store.

Admission for adults is dropping from $14.95 to $12.95 in the new year (and as an anniversary present is $10 in December).

Much of year two’s expansion will happen beyond the museum’s walls.

Its first field trip, In Search of Elvis, will take place in March, when Santelli leads a guided tour to such Presley landmark cities as Memphis, Tupelo and Nashville. (The tour is in conjunction with a Presley exhibit that opens at the Museum on Jan. 8, the King’s 75th birthday.)

There are also plans to take some of its exhibits on the road.

“We had hoped to travel our ‘Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom’ exhibit. We had lots of interest, but due to the economy, no money,” Santelli says.

Santelli also has reason to believe his 2010 target of 100,000 visitors will be met as two hotels will open next to the museum early next year, giving it a built-in clientele.

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