The New Musical Instrument Museum Begins Construction in Phoenix, Arizona

Musical Instrument Museum
Musical Instrument Museum – design rendering courtesy of RSP Architects


Phoenix (Arizona), USA – The new Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), the first truly global museum of its kind, broke ground on February 6 for its 180,000-square-foot facility on 20 acres of land on the north side of Phoenix, Arizona. Leading the celebration were Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Phoenix Vice Mayor Peggy Neely, MIM Board Chairman Bob Ulrich, MIM President and Director Bill DeWalt, and members of the Phoenix Symphony. Scheduled to open by early 2010, the new museum will celebrate the universal language of music by exhibiting instruments from every country in the world.

This will be like no other musical instrument museum in the world,” said MIM Board Chairman Bob Ulrich, who also serves as Chairman and CEO of Target Corporation. “Through its global collection, MIM will celebrate the contributions each and every country has made to our musical heritage. This is a unique opportunity to build a world-class museum and collection from the ground up, and we are pleased to do so in one of America’s fastest-growing and most-visited cities.”MIM will exhibit approximately 5,000 instruments, from the exquisite heirlooms of royal courts to handcrafted pieces passed down through generations. With the use of the most technologically advanced wireless headsets and high-resolution video screens, museum guests will be able to see instruments, hear their sounds, and observe them being played in their original settings—performances that are often as spectacular as the instruments themselves. Other areas of the museum will provide opportunities for guests to play selected instruments such as Congolese slitgong drums and see how instruments like the violin are made.

An ongoing schedule of live performances in a state-of-the-art, intimate auditorium will make MIM a center of world music performance. At times, instruments from the museum’s own collections will be used in these performances. The museum will also include a conservation laboratory, a recording studio, a restaurant, coffee shop and gift shop.

Through distinctive exhibitions, performances and educational programs, MIM will celebrate the diversity of music around the globe and enable everyone to understand how music both defines us and unites us,” said MIM President and Director Bill DeWalt, the former Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “We expect the new museum to be an engaging and inspirational experience for diverse audiences from around the world as well as to become a world center for the study of musical traditions.”

Curatorial Council

A Curatorial Council composed of representatives from some of the most important musical instrument collections in the world is providing input on MIM’s curatorial vision and the public programming and operating aspects of the new museum. Council members include: Cynthia Adams Hoover, Curator Emeritus, Musical Instruments Division of Cultural History, Smithsonian Institute; J. Kenneth Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Gary Sturm, Chair, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Division Of Music, Sports and Entertainment; Patricia Grazzini, Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Eric De Visscher, Director Musée de la musique, Paris; and Margaret Downie Banks, Senior Curator of Musical Instruments, National Music Museum, University of South Dakota.

The Collection

MIM’s collection will include instruments from all of the countries of the world. Most instruments acquired for the collection will be more than 50 years old. Many will have been used for folk or tribal occasions, while others will be instruments played by world famous artists in familiar venues.

The collection will be organized into galleries representing major regions of the world, consisting of: Europe, United States and Canada, Latin America, Oceania, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central and South Asia, Middle East and Africa.

Major countries with multiple musical traditions such as China, Congo, India, Mexico, Russia and the United States will have several displays with subsections for different types of ethnic, folk and tribal music.

Highlights of the collection to date include:

* The Javanese gamelan – a classical Indonesian musical ensemble featuring a variety of instruments such as xylophones, drums and gongs, all built and tuned to play together. MIM’s gamelan is more than 100 years old and comes from a royal court on the island of Java. This ensemble accompanies shadow puppet shows and the museum’s collection includes hundreds of these beautiful puppets.

* Six-foot-long slitgong drums from the Congo. More than 50 years old, these instruments are also stylized representations of animals.

Programming will include performances of instruments featured in the galleries, demonstrations of how instruments are made and special exhibitions focused on topics such as the migration of instruments from culture to culture, how music is incorporated into weddings, festivals, ceremonies, sporting events and other occasions celebrated by the world’s cultures, and visiting collections of instruments from collaborating museums around the world.


Musical Instrument Museum, design rendering courtesy of RSP Architects
Musical Instrument Museum, design rendering courtesy of RSP Architects


The Building

Designed by award-winning architect Richard Varda and the Minneapolis and Phoenix firm RSP Architects, the architecture and landscape of MIM will evoke the topography of the Southwest and express the universal role of music across all cultures.

The 180,000 square-foot museum will include 75,000 square feet of gallery space. It will be a two-story structure of simple, fractured stone forms. A flowing “river” form creates the central spine that links the interior galleries. This flowing form is an atrium that provides a bright, welcoming entrance for guests. Floor, wall and ceiling finishes create patterns that evoke geological striations of the Arizona landscape, the rhythms of musical composition and the features common to musical instruments from around the world. Diffused daylight will illuminate the galleries and public spaces through windows and skylights that will glow and animate the building at night.

As guests approach the building, they will pass through a courtyard designed by the leading landscape architectural firm of Ten Eyck Landscape Architects of Phoenix. Desert plantings and arroyo environments will surround the building.

The first floor will include an orientation area, galleries, the hands-on experience room, a restaurant, a family center and a shop with a wide selection of music and music-related items. The first floor will also house a conservation lab, administrative offices, instrument storage and exhibition support space.

The second floor will contain five galleries that will each feature the instruments of the regions of the world. Spanning the two floors will be a 300-seat performance hall. Designed with spacious seating and state-of-the-art acoustics, the hall will be a premier venue for performances, films and seminars about musical traditions from around the world.

For more information about the MIM, please visit

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central