INTERNATIONAL BLUEGRASS MUSIC MUSEUM

Owensboro, Ky.

Community Arts Award – In 1985, the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Ky., began to develop — and has since maintained — an environment in which people of all ages can discover the richness of bluegrass music. The museum is the world's only facility dedicated to the history and preservation of bluegrass music, an important chapter in Kentucky's musical songbook. Through its exhibits and special events, including a video oral history project and the overwhelmingly popular ROMP Festival that attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe, the museum ensures the living legacy of bluegrass music continues.

How has the community embraced the museum?

Gabrielle Gray: I think what happened is that ROMP turned the lake over. One thing we did, anyone who was involved in a college bluegrass program throughout the country was invited to come for free, provided they brought their instrument and jammed and stayed all three days and camped. So we were changing the atmosphere of the festival, making it into a jam session of really good musicians from all over. It's creating a culture and creating a milieu and a place where everybody is comfortable.

How has the museum been important to community development in Owensboro?

GG: It's been a constant stirstick of energy with sparks coming out all the time, of energy and creativity. People come from all over the world to this museum, it's a small museum. They also want to go to Rosine to the Bill Monroe homeplace. It's like a pilgrimage. But the energy and excitement about the school program, the kids learning it and loving it, and ROMP, ROMP is extreme. I can remember the very first year we went into the schools and we asked the kids "who here knows what bluegrass music is?" and not a hand went up in any school in this area, not one hand in 23 schools. Now you ask them that question at these assembly programs who here has heard of bluegrass music? The screaming shouting, stomping in the bleachers, every hand up, that's what it's like now, everywhere. It's just changed the entire culture. What we've been doing is a steady injection of joy. There's no way to beat that.

How has the community supported the museum?

GG: The ROMP budget has grown to over a half a million dollars. With the exception of ticket sales and earned income, all of that money comes from support. Think of that. It's enormous. We have close to $200,000 donated by businesses. Everybody's coming. We're in a $10 million dollar capital campaign. We haven't even gone to the bluegrass community yet. This has all been raised out of Owensboro, $8 million already. That's gigantic. The city pledged $3 million dollars to the new museum. How many cities do that?

And they're part of it. That's the whole key to everything is inclusivity. Making people part of a project, then it belongs to them. Then its success becomes integral to their being.

 

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Kentucky Arts Council