EMP's 'Northwest Passage' exhibit includes memorabilia from Seattle's Jackson Street jazz scene of the 1940s. Credit: Courtesy Experience Music Project
One display of local music history will disappear to make room for another early next year, when the “Northwest Passage” exhibition at the Experience Music Project is permanently shut down.
The exhibit traces the history of music in the Northwest, spanning decades and genres. It explores just about every important contribution musicians from the region have made to pop music, ranging from the local jazz scene in the 1940s, which spawned Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson, to the garage and surf-rock sounds of the Ventures and Kingsmen in the 1960s, all the way up to the grunge era and the modern Northwest sounds coming from the likes of Modest Mouse, Built to Spill and others.
The museum is closing the exhibit, which has been in place since June 2000, on Jan. 3 in order to make room for a massive Nirvana exhibition slated to open in April. So you’d better act fast if you want to really bone up on your local music history.
“The whole goal of ‘Northwest Passage’ was to create an overview of the amazing music that came from the Northwest from the 1940s up until 2000, and I think we’ve done that successfully,” said Jacob McMurray, one of the museum’s senior curators.
McMurray is curator of the upcoming exhibit “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.” Some of the items from “Northwest Passage” will appear in the Nirvana exhibition. McMurray said preserving and protecting the Northwest Passage items on display is another reason for the closure of that exhibit.
“Our worry as a museum is that light levels and UV rays and light damage affect paper and fabric. Ten years is a long time for fragile things to be exposed to those conditions. We want to make sure they will all last for at least another hundred years or longer, so we will rest all of those materials that are in our collection,” he said.
McMurray estimated that about 75 percent of the items in “Northwest Passage” are part of the museum’s permanent collection. The items that don’t belong to EMP will be returned to their original owners. The closure of “Northwest Passage” will allow the museum to pursue a strategy of creating in-depth exhibitions focusing on specific aspects of local music instead of housing a broad-reaching history of Northwest music.
“Northwest Passage was very much a survey of the Northwest, but the longer-term goal for that space is to do larger exhibitions about much larger topics, like say Nirvana, and have them run for a couple of years and keep switching that focus,” McMurray said. “So it’s always about the Northwest but it’s exploring a new facet of the Northwest and it’s doing so a lot more in-depth.”
McMurray said there hasn’t been discussion on what will replace the Nirvana exhibit when it goes away in 2013, but he did list several local musicians and eras he would like to see fill the space, including Pearl Jam, the Jackson Street jazz scene and the local contributions to the “Louie Louie” era of rock.
“It’s particularly exciting for me because I have 2,500 square feet to not only tell the story of Nirvana, but to also couch that story within what was happening throughout the Northwest and the U.S. from the rise of punk rock on. So we get to explore all of the things that needed to be in place, this creative underground infrastructure all across the United States, in order for a band like Nirvana to even exist and break out of the underground and reach the mainstream.”
While he is excited about installing the Nirvana exhibit, McMurray said he will miss the presence of “Northwest Passage” at the museum.