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Music museum a possibility,
smaller organizations already at it

Keep On Jamming

The culture and history of Texas are perhaps as big and as storied as the state itself. Music has its own special place within that history, whether it's country and western, rock n' roll or a musical style brought to Texas by German or Spanish settlers.

An idea to permanently house Texas music artifacts and memorabilia is under discussion and could be brought to the 2003 Legislature for consideration.

The Texas House Committee on State, Federal and International Relations has met on at least one occasion to hear testimony from Texas musicians, historians and music educators alike, according to committee chairman Rep. Bob Hunter. The topic: the possible formation of a central facility to preserve the work of some of Texas' most treasured musicians.

According to Hunter, preliminary suggestions have ranged anywhere from a $20 million event facility to a Web site or a "Texas Music Trail," similar in nature to the Texas Forts Trail. Whatever the final plan happens to be--provided there is a plan--recent history suggests the state is well prepared to make it a first-class project.

Success breeds success
April 21, 2002 marked an anniversary for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum--one year since its doors were officially opened. Authorized by the 1997 Legislature--to the tune of $80 million in bonds for construction--the Bullock Museum was designed with the hope it would be self-sustaining, drawing funding from donations, admission fees, facility rentals and other fees. The Bullock Museum has quickly established itself at the top of many a Texan's list when they think of history, welcoming more than 780,000 visitors in its first year.

But a couple of questions loom over the possibility of a Texas music museum. Will the 2003 Legislature have funds available? Will it have a project to fund? That remains to be seen.

The Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) hopes there will, and that a music history museum would serve--similar to the Bullock Museum--as a learning experience. Robert Floyd, executive director of TMEA, says the educational aspect would be important for students and teachers alike.

"A music museum could serve as a professional development center for music educators," Floyd says, "in addition to a learning "laboratory" or field trip destination for students, to help our students understand our rich heritage in music."

Floyd says added education would only supplement music education in the state, which he says is already considered tops in the nation.

"We have the strongest music programs in the nation in our schools in Texas," says Floyd, "so music education is an important part of this rich heritage in music our state has experienced and continues to experience."

Preserving the past
Regardless of whether or not a state music museum is approved, there are already sites and organizations around the state doing just what a museum does--preserving the past.

"What is it about Texas music?" asks Casey Monahan, executive director of the Texas Music Office (TMO). "There is way too much detail to try to pin it down. Texans have given American music its distinctive voice, and that's no brag, just fact."

TMO was established in January 1990 to promote the development of the Texas music industry and has information on more than 7,000 Texas music businesses, as well as listings for music events in the state, recording artists and more than 800 radio stations.

One of the more difficult aspects of preserving the history of music in Texas is deciding what the main thing is that makes it Texas music. Monahan says that really can't be done.

"There is no one Texas sound," says Monahan. "Americans of all kinds came to Texas and brought with them their music. Polka from the Czechs, Poles and Germans; conjunto from Northern Mexico; gospel, R&B, jazz and blues from Africans; classical from throughout the world. Moreover, when these Texans got together, wholly new strains appeared soon thereafter."

For a complete listing of services available from TMO, visit its Web site at www.governor.state.tx.us/music/. While TMO handles the state's end of Texas music promotion, there are organizations already devoted to its preservation. Clay Shorkey of the Texas Music Museum (TMM) in Austin agrees with Monahan, saying that Texas music covers the map.

"There's such range and diversity in Texas music," says Shorkey. "[In addition] to artists, we've tried to push Texas composers, too."

TMM's collection largely includes sheet music, audio recordings and phonograph recordings but TMM does not have permanent exhibit space of its own, instead setting up exhibits at various museums all over the state. Shorkey says with that in mind, TMM officials would love to see the state take an active role in establishing a museum and that they would love to be involved.

Another, smaller museum with a different space problem is the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, in Panola County. The hall of fame houses country music memorabilia items from its inductees, which include Bob Wills, Dale Evans, Willie Nelson, Tex Ritter and Jim Reeves--Ritter and Reeves are both from Panola County--among others.

Tommie Ritter Smith founded the Tex Ritter Museum in 1993, which became the hall of fame in 1998, and says trying to maintain a facility housing memorabilia from legends of Texas and in many cases the national scene as well is an awesome task.

"I am in awe of the great things accomplished by Texas musicians," says Smith. "I'm all for preserving [the history of] Texas country music and it definitely needs to be preserved."

Smith says she spoke before members of the State, Federal and International Relations Committee because she wanted them to know facilities like the hall of fame exist and are reputable organizations. She says she doesn't know where the idea will go from here, but hopes it is beneficial for everyone.

"I don't have the answer," says Smith, "I just want to be part of the answer, whatever that is."

The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is a success story. Five years after the opening of the Tex Ritter Museum in 1993, the hall of fame was established and moved into a 3,000-square-foot facility. The hall moves into its new home, a 13,000-square-foot city-built facility, in August 2002.

"After three years of inductions, we've maxed out our space," Smith says.

Building a better museum
Space would likely not be a problem with a new, central history museum, especially if modeled after some recent openings of similar structures, a couple of which have been mentioned as possible models for a future project in Texas.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, is perhaps the most recognizable name in U.S. music museums of the last 15 years. The $84 million, 150,000 square-foot facility contributes an estimated $100 million a year to the city of Cleveland from people coming specifically to see the hall, according to Michael Devlin, senior director of communications. Devlin says the hall of fame has established itself near the top of the tourist list in Cleveland.

"According to the Convention and Visitors Bureau," says Devlin, "the hall is the number two reason to visit Cleveland, with friends and family being the number one."

Devlin says 80 percent of the hall's visitors come from beyond the greater Cleveland area and in any given year all 50 states are represented. An expansion project in the $50 million range is in the works.

While it's not a project of the same scale as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame has enjoyed its own run of success.

"We have enjoyed visitors from all over the world, for a variety of reasons," says Lisa Love, communications and marketing director. "Music is the international language and, like Texas, we have pioneers in every genre."

Since its opening in September 1996, Love says the museum has drawn more than 350,000 visitors to its location in Macon, an average of about 68,000 a year, and helped boost the appeal of Macon and Middle Georgia as a tourist destination. According to Love, tourism in 1996 contributed $270 million to the local economy, an amount that had risen to more than $300 million by the end of 2000.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame was approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 1993 with $6.5 million in general obligation bonds set aside for construction. The state agreed to spend another $4 million for restoration and area enhancement after the city of Macon donated the land on which the museum sits.

It is still too early to tell if there will be a Texas music history museum or to draw any conclusions on what its economic impact might be. The Rock and Roll hall in Cleveland and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, however, point to a sizable economic boost for Texas.

Clint Shields