Chairman's Blog February 2021
Updated: Feb 10
Hello and welcome to my first blog of 2021! I hope this communication finds you all well and managing to stay safe and healthy.
Last year was certainly unusual to say the least, and provided many challenges to the Museum in all areas of its activities, most significantly in terms of our finances. All our normal sources of income from trading (shop, concerts, tours etc.) came to a grinding halt at the start of the lockdown. My thanks go to Ed Stannard (Grants Co-ordinator) in leading our team through the process of securing several much-needed grants this year. Some of these grants help to cover general overheads due to Covid-19, and we were fortunate to secure some funding to develop the premises and our overall offering. Unfortunately, most of these types of grants will not be available once the current crisis is over.
We have embarked on a project to bring the functionality of the EPOS system fully online. This will make booking tickets for events, visits and also premises hire more efficient and streamlined and allow us to take contactless donations. From a financial standpoint the board took the view that, with the restrictions placed on us by Covid-19, we would treat 2020/21 financial year as a time to re-model the Museum and invest in improving our capabilities. 2021/22 is the financial year we will focus on our objective to make the Museum self-sufficient from its “trading income” i.e. the income from concerts/events/hiring etc.
Despite the financial challenges the Museum faces, we have continued to press ahead with remodelling the ground floor to help us create a more modern, open, and inviting experience for our traditional visitors and new audiences, including the corporate hire market. We are doing this work now to ensure the Museum is ready to re-open with a bang when we are allowed to do so, and that we can deliver our vision of providing a premium experience in a sustainable way. The Operations Team have been busy since the last blog went out, delivering a live streamed Christmas concert (with a small, socially-distanced audience), and most recently “An Audience with Len Rawle”, a new online-only concept for the Museum providing first class music and chat with a leading organist. Each time we produce a video the process improves, and we’re now delivering some really excellent, quality online content.
Although the Museum is currently closed to the public and to most volunteering activity, essential work to develop the Museum’s broadcasting capabilities continues. Thanks to the recent grants, we have been able to employ contractors, who (working in a Covid-secure way) have been able to perform essential maintenance and development, including laying almost a kilometre of extra cabling to support the Museum’s Concert Hall. The Musical Museum now has a theatre space which offers much greater flexibility, capable of live streaming events, bands, interviews and more – all of which have taken place in the last few months, keeping the Museum alive in the face of the critical threat posed by our enforced closure to on-site visitors.
The Musical Museum is truly becoming a musical hub, supporting local artists, community groups and other musical organisations, as well as our core purposes relating to the collection and the cinema organ. We have a varied programme of concerts lined up for streaming in the coming months. Thanks to the ability to stream, our Wurlitzer is now being heard live by greater numbers of people than ever before, and on a global basis. We urgently need capable volunteers to support the “digital” aspects of the Museum, as this is a key part of our strategy for future sustainability. As we look hopefully towards a horizon less constrained by the current pandemic, attracting new technical talent will be a key focus.
The Museum team are also working with outside consultants to provide services from the Museum to the education sector, looking at all age ranges from primary through to university and we are currently setting up focus groups with educational specialists to provide feedback in this area.
In terms of the collection itself, much has happened since the start of lock-down in 2020. A few visitors were able to join us for a brief two week opening in October before closure was once again imposed. However, the team of Trustees, volunteers and management at the Museum have not been idle and have continued up until mid-December to prepare the galleries for re-opening.
Gallery 1 has seen some minor changes, and there is still work to be completed to get all instruments working as intended. The Aeolian Orchestrelle in particular requires some complex restoration work in order to be brought into fully demonstrable condition.
Gallery 2 will mostly contain the Contemporary collection, including those items currently on loan from the National Science Museum. The recent addition of low-level glass cabinets will make it possible to display some of the smaller objects which make up this collection to better effect, and improve our visitor experience.
In Gallery 3, we are currently bringing back to life many instruments that have not worked or been on exhibition for some considerable time. Here is an opportunity to see restoration in progress as well as experiencing the sounds of long-forgotten instruments.
Gallery 4 (formerly Lamb’s Passage) has had a dramatic make-over. It now houses a fine collection of instruments from the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS). They are all privately owned, and many are extremely old and rare. During our brief re-opening, members of the Society were on hand to present and demonstrate these instruments to the delight of our visitors. This will become the basis of a permanent exhibition which CLPGS will refresh periodically.
We are undertaking a major review of the entire collection to determine which of the thousands of items can realistically be maintained, which are in need of work to be returned to a playing condition, which can be preserved in a non-playing condition, and which should be de-acquisitioned.
The Concert Hall has also had many changes for the benefit of our guests. The ‘Regal’ Wurlitzer pictorial exhibition is now mounted on the walls around the Concert Hall and provides a background to the evolution of cinema, from silent movies to the coming of sound; the role of the cinema organ; the manufacture of our ‘Regal’ Wurlitzer in 1929; the Wurlitzer’s installation at the Regal Kingston and subsequent acquisition by the Museum; and how it is now used to entertain our visitors.
Keeping the collection in working order and providing exhibitions takes a huge amount of volunteer effort … and this is only a small part of what our volunteer force do on a regular basis. Any ideas you may have for the collection or exhibitions are very important to us to help shape our future - so we want to hear from you! Please leave your comments below.
I hope you will tune in to our streamed broadcasts and come along to the Museum albeit virtually and join in the activities.
My thanks as always to the team here for the amazing work they do to take the Museum forward.
With best wishes,
Chairman and Director of Music