VERMILLION, SD — After three years of being closed to the public, the National Music Museum reopened part of the newly renovated space last year.
The museum closed in 2018 to undergo a $9.5 million renovation project that included adding a new wing to the building and updating the exhibit halls.
The museum, located on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion, has 15,000 instruments, including some of the most historically significant musical instruments. Founded in 1973, the National Music Museum Inc. is a non-profit entity in partnership with USD.
In March 2018, the museum was approved to add approximately 16,000 square feet (two stories plus a basement) to the existing Carnegie Building. Funding for the construction project was raised by the museum’s board of trustees, with up to $1.5 million of that amount covered by US dollars for HVAC infrastructure and facility upgrades. .
On September 24, an opening ceremony took place for the new Lillibridge wing. The addition contains approximately 4,600 square feet of new exhibit space, a museum store, the Janet L. Wanzeck Performance Hall, the Groves Gallery for special exhibits, and the Wohlenberg Administrative Suite.
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Michael Suing, then the museum’s acting director, said the special exhibition hall gives the museum a place to display various collections that are in storage and borrowed from other institutions.
The space was designed to be flexible, a curtain wall on one side that can open to create a large space for performances and gatherings.
Suing said the space gives the museum a place to experiment and be playful. Before, when the museum presented the different collections, they were not able to tell the stories effectively and the new space allows it.
An exhibit titled “Gamelan! A Way of Life” was scheduled to open March 25 and run throughout the summer. It will offer special workshops for the public to learn to play Indonesian percussion instruments.
The auditorium is a small, intimate space.
Suing said the staff wanted to be intentional about how the space was used. All the chairs in the performance hall can be moved, combined with the curtain wall separating the hall from the special exhibition gallery, larger functions can be arranged.
On the second floor of the addition are the administrative offices, along with a photography studio and conservation lab. Suing said it’s the first time in the institution’s history that staff are in one place and not spread across different floors of the building.
In the historic Carnegie Wing, 12 gallery spaces have been completely redesigned and rebuilt, with track lights, updated HVAC, internet and more. It also includes a new classroom sponsored by the City of Vermillion.
“We really brought the facility into the 21st century,” Suing said.
Fundraising is still underway to install the permanent galleries, which follow three “neighbourhoods”: the role instruments play in our lives, instruments as innovation, and instruments as arts and crafts.
The role instruments play in our lives shows how humans use instruments to signal and mark time.
“It will be a mix of instruments from around the world,” Suing said. “We were intentional about how we could tell the world story of music and musical instruments in the most fair and equitable way possible.”
The section will also explain how instruments and music are used for personal and communal expression, such as faith or propaganda.
A workshop will be set up which will feature a historic bench, tools and designs for making arch top guitars. Visitors will be able to see the construction stages of the guitar.
Instruments as an innovation will show what sound is, how it is produced and what impacts it.
Different types of instruments will be highlighted and how different ideas have come together in instrument design. Suing said his favorite part was the dynamic between composers, musicians and instrument makers and how they inspired each other.
A highlight of the section will be a hands-on exhibit where people can punch, pinch or talk, and the sound tracks will be projected onto the wall.
“Trying to hire people who might be more interested in technology or engineering,” Suing said.
Woodcarving, inlay and painting techniques will be showcased along with the jewel in the museum’s crown, the King Cello, the oldest known cello in the world.
Suing said the new layout aims to provide as many access points for people to connect with the story and relate.