The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation. An avid collector of African art and a world museum enthusiast, Ulrich and his friend Marc Felix originated the idea for MIM after a visit to the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium. Their unique vision was to create a museum and collection that afford equal representation to the musical instruments and music of every country in the world. Using state‐of-the‐art audiovisual technology to show musical instruments being played in their original cultural context and delivering the sound of these instruments through high-quality headphones, MIM provides a one-of‐a‐kind experience to museum guests.
MIM’s collection was assembled by five expert curators, with consultation from distinguished ethnomusicologists, organologists, and other field experts, under the supervision of MIM’s founding president and director Dr. Billie (Bill) R. DeWalt. The bulk of the collection is highlighted in Geographical Galleries that focus on five major global regions. There are also special exhibition spaces such as the Mechanical Music Gallery, which features instruments designed to play on their own, and the Artist Gallery, which includes noteworthy musical instruments and artifacts associated with some of the world’s leading musicians. The museum opened its doors to great acclaim on April 24, 2010.
Greater Phoenix is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, with a vibrant and culturally diverse population. Its resorts attract many conventions and holiday travelers who seek world‐class attractions such as MIM. Drawn by the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders of the Southwest, many international visitors travel through the user-friendly Phoenix airport.
There are other museums of musical instruments across the globe, but the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is unique in that it brings together in one place an expansive collection of instruments from every country. Other musical instrument museums primarily focus on Western instruments, with much less attention paid to those from other areas of the world. The MIM experience also brings these instruments to life through technology that enables visitors to see and hear these instruments in their original cultural settings, like in no other museum in the world.
MIM was designed by award‐winning architect Rich Varda, in conjunction with the Minneapolis and Phoenix firm of RSP Architects. MIM’s distinctive architecture evokes the topography of the Southwest. Its materials and patterns pay homage to the desert landscape, to the rhythms of musical composition, and to the familiar details common to musical instruments from around the world. Indian sandstone is the primary element on the building’s dynamic façade. The MIM Lobby is light filled and fluid in form. Guests are linked to all the galleries through a spacious main corridor that conjures up the lyrical forms of music and graceful musical instruments. Likewise, patterns on the floors, walls, and ceilings suggest the geological striations of the Arizona landscape, the rhythms of musical composition, and designs and shapes common to musical instruments.
The museum has installed a 260kW PowerPly™ photovoltaic (PV) solar system on the rooftop, which represents the first U.S. commercial installation of the lightweight, roof‐integrated PowerPly photovoltaic module. MIM anticipates a 15 percent energy savings from this system. In addition, only native plants are used in the beautiful landscaping and gray water is used for irrigating these plants.
The museum’s collection of more than 15,000 instruments and artifacts was acquired in the geographic and cultural regions where these instruments are played and have the most cultural relevance. Nearly 5,000 of these are on exhibit at a time. Some of the instruments in the MIM collection were, until recently, still being played in their places of origin and were subsequently donated by their makers or the musicians who owned and played them. (You can see and hear some of these very same instruments in MIM’s videos.) Some were created by artisans expressly for MIM. Others were purchased from other collectors or collections. The museum’s experts have gone to great lengths to acquire the instruments, sometimes traveling to extremely remote locations and regions of unrest. The instruments were selected for their fine construction, the reputation of their makers, their special provenance, or their connection to significant performers. Instruments and artifacts from MIM’s Geographical Galleries focus on five major global regions: Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States and Canada.
Musical instruments and artifacts have been acquired from more than 200 countries and territories around the world. MIM continues to work on its commitment to representing instruments from every country in the world.
Currently, the China exhibit displays a paigu (hourglass drum) which is estimated to have been created from 5000-4000 B.C.E. Found near the Banpo village in Xi’an province, the drum has a head made of frog or snake skin, which was tied to hooks around the drum for tension. Regarding Western instruments, the Netherlands exhibit displays six carillon bells cast in Belgium by the famous Amsterdam maker Pieter Hemony. The date 1659 is cast on one of the bell’s exteriors.
MIM is funded completely from private sources but, as a nonprofit entity, may eventually apply for grants from government sources.
Every seat in MIM’s plush theater offers guests an opportunity to hear a diverse range of world-class concerts and global artists in an intimate, comfortable environment with superb acoustics. A larger space would not provide this optimal experience. Click here to visit the MIM Music Theater site.
MIM has approximately 1,800 Sennheiser guidePORT compact receivers with headphones available to guide guests through the museum. These audio guides—completely automatic and with high audio quality— provide the sound track for videos at nearly 300 sites around the museum. Hidden identifiers are installed at exhibits that cue the audio guides automatically to exactly the right “sound track”. With guidePORT’s wireless technology, every visitor has his/her own personal tour guide through the museum.
As with many other aspects of MIM, the museum operates in ways that are innovative and that test the models used by other museums. In lieu of a traditional membership program (shown by our research not to be cost effective), MIM has created a new support model to ensure the fiscal vitality of the museum, while keeping it affordable for everyone who wishes to visit. Circle of Friends is MIM’s premier group of individual donors who contribute $250 or more annually to support the museum’s ongoing work.
MIM also offers a variety of other donor opportunities for individuals, corporations, and businesses, which provide benefits to the donors and their families or their companies. From funding an exhibit to adding a donor’s name to the Founders Wall, support of MIM will allow generations of people to explore and experience the rich diversity of the world’s music and musical instruments. Please visit the Guest Service desk for a complimentary copy of MIM’s Circle of Friends brochure.
Volunteers play an integral role in MIM’s success. Becoming a MIM volunteer is a unique opportunity to get involved with the museum. The minimum age to volunteer at MIM is 17 years. Volunteer opportunities are available in the areas of docents, gallery guides, guest services, ushers, and in the museum store. Click here to learn more about the volunteer program, or e‐mail volunteer@MIM.org.