Chairman's Blog - November 2020
Hello, and welcome to my November blog.
It’s hard to think that another year is drawing to a close, and that Christmas is just around the corner. It has been a year of mixed fortunes for the Musical Museum; after a promising start to the year, like many third sector organisations we have been badly affected by Covid. None of us could have predicted this or the effect it would have. It is doubly disappointing that we now find ourselves in an additional lockdown, given the huge amount of work that was undertaken by the team to prepare the Museum to re-open safely at the end of October.
Despite the Museum being closed for many months, we have managed to use the time productively to complete a major face-lift for the ground-floor galleries and reception area. The work undertaken gives the Museum a more professional image, with a feeling of light and space in which to exhibit our collection. The wow-factor is increased by the presence of a new self-playing Allen Digital Theatre Organ, superbly lit, which is the first thing people see when they walk in, and brilliantly combines our dual narratives of Music Reproduction and the Cinema Organ.
We were able to showcase the new look at the opening weekend, which despite being a “soft launch” was nevertheless a real success, with an electronic organ concert on the Saturday night followed by Wurlitzer concert on the Sunday afternoon. Both events attracted a large streamed live audience as well as our first physical audiences since lockdown began. The feedback we received has been heart-warming and is clear evidence that we are pursuing the right strategy for the Museum going forward. I would like to thank all the team who contributed to the refurbishment work and to making the “re-opening” weekend the success it was - special thanks go to my fellow trustee, Steve Barrett-White for leading and managing this project.
Financially the Museum is in a stable position at the moment, despite the current situation causing it to be closed since March (with the exception of the opening weekend!) and the vast amount of work done to make the Museum “Covid Safe.” My thanks go Mark Blackwell (our Financial Director) as well as to Ed, Ginette and all who have worked to secure nearly £200k of funding to cover the significant impact of the refurbishment and running costs. Going forward, we are looking to raise more funding via the Museum’s improved facilities (such as the large auditorium with its streaming capabilities) by letting them to local groups and businesses, improving the utilisation of these areas and generating funds for restoration and overheads, and to allow the organisation to continue to pursue the goals it was set up to do.
The Operations team have been exceptionally busy over recent weeks creating a new experience for our guests. The ground floor has been completely re-decorated and re-styled including a new Covid compliant reception area and the creation of new gallery areas and exhibitions, all with greater space for visitors to enjoy our fascinating collections.
Work completed included the opening-up of Gallery 2 to what was “Lamb’s Passage” and removing all but one of the old shop fronts to create an open-plan “Gallery 4”. Two of the old shop fronts have been preserved, with one situated outside the lift entrance and the other in the glass porch entranceway, creating a small showcase.
All the café furniture has been replaced, with new tables and serving area surfaces to ensure we meet the government guidelines along with table service for events in the concert hall, giving the Museum a more professional and modern look and feel which was badly needed. Work will be continuing to bring our visitors the very best experience possible, and I would like to say a big thank you to all of the staff, volunteers and contractors for all of the completed and ongoing work to bring the Musical Museum experience to life for our members and guests.
Conservation and Exhibitions
Over the months which the Museum has been closed, we have taken the opportunity to refresh our offering for visitors, creating significantly more display and public space in our Galleries.
The new Gallery 4 space is exhibiting rare gramophones and phonographs dating from 1880. Some 22 instruments are on loan from The City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society (CLPGS - founded in 1919), and we are delighted to host this new display in addition to showcasing relevant items from our own collection, creating what is now the largest permanent gramophone and phonograph exhibition in the UK! During our all-too-brief opening in late October, members of the CLPGS were on hand to demonstrate some of these fine instruments. We will be including them in our regular conducted tours but also hope that they will be the focus of ‘themed’ events in the future.
Gallery 2 will now house the core of the contemporary collection which was originally in Gallery 3. Gallery 3 will for now become an area for exhibitions and some instrument restoration. Gallery 1 has also been improved thanks to the re-siting of some instruments, together with the removal of many of the traditional rope barriers to create more space and a welcoming atmosphere.
My heartfelt thanks go to Mike Wood (our Collections Director) and our dedicated volunteers who have performed a huge amount of activity every week to help create our new exciting image – and it is not over yet!
To support the changes to the Galleries, Marcus Harbourne (director responsible for Tours and Health & Safety) has been busy developing new tours and managing the safety of our visitors. Tour guide routines, comprehensive risk assessments and controls took much time to prepare but were duly completed for the re-opening in October. Ensuring the safety of our visitors, staff and volunteers is paramount, the on-going requirements, policies and procedures to maintain a secure, safe and healthy environment are firmly in place. Guided tours have been remodelled to suit the new Gallery layouts, and with the new instruments on display as well, we are well-placed to deliver a much enhanced, interesting and thoughtful presentation on the reproduction of music through the ages. My thanks to Marcus for his hard work in this area.
IT and Technical Infrastructure
Thanks to the new funding, the Museum has been able to invest significantly in its technical infrastructure, and we have been able to purchase equipment that for many years has been on our "wish list" but beyond our reach. We have been able to purchase a vision mixer, cameras and other components which enable us to stream events live from our concert hall to the internet. Not only does this provide us with the ability to share the Museum's story with a new and international audience, but it provides a valuable new capability within our community, and we have already had enquiries from local groups who would like to use our facilities to record and stream their events. The Museum's new YouTube channel has grown from scratch to over 500 subscribers, with 6,000 video views in October alone, and we've established a Patreon page to allow supporters to help us financially on an ongoing basis.
We have made physical improvements too, one of the most visible changes being the completion of an automatic barrier to secure our car park and preserve valuable spaces for our volunteers and visitors.
The technical department has really benefitted from the grants that we have secured, and we're incredibly grateful in particular to Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their support in enabling these significant improvements to the Musical Museum.
I would like to say a big thank you to Simon Hill, our Technical Director for leading this work – the streaming has been an outstanding success and complements the work we are doing to develop our traditional audiences. It is a sobering fact that due to the Covid crisis the Museum would have been (and would continue to be) silent for the longest period in its history, but by embracing this technology we have been able to share our story with the world, and ensure the Wurlitzer and our other exhibits continue to be heard.
On a final note, if you know of anyone who is looking for something to occupy their time once restrictions are lifted, why not suggest they join our friendly band of volunteers here at the Museum? We are currently looking for people in the following areas:
· Standard & Children's Tour Guides (DBS check will be carried out)
· Video production & A/V
· Instrument Maintenance & Conservation
· Roll Library / Archivists All positions are on a voluntary basis, and training is provided. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we look forward to welcoming them to the team in the future.
I hope you will be able to join us for the Christmas Concert on 13th December at 3pm, when we hope to welcome back a physical audience once again (depending on restrictions) - if not you can enjoy the concert from home as it will be streamed live.
My best wishes to you all.
Chris Barber, Chairman and Director of Music