Country Music Museum grows to match genre

KRISTIN M. HALL Associated Press Published:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is no longer bursting at the seams, thanks to a $100 million expansion that has more than doubled its space and allowed it to add more interactive and contemporary exhibits.

The museum on Tuesday will unveil the final part of the expansion, two new exhibit galleries and a behind-the-scenes gallery of ongoing archival projects, which will likely draw more fans of contemporary country music.

"We've been lucky at collecting, but the archives are busting out the door," said Carolyn Tate, vice president of museum services. "We wanted more room just to be able to tell the story. To be able to offer this very contemporary look into what's happening today."

The expansion added more than 200,000 square feet of space to the existing building, including an 800-seat theater, an event hall overlooking the city skyline, an educational wing named after Taylor Swift, storage and exhibit spaces, classrooms, retail shops and a working print shop. The expansion started in 2011 and more than $81 million has been raised through private donations, fundraising campaigns and other sources.

The new exhibit galleries, called the ACM Gallery and the Fred and Dinah Gretsch Family Gallery, focus on the latest trends and emerging artists in country music, such as George Strait's farewell tour, Florida Georgia Line's record breaking single, "Cruise," and the pairing of Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton as co-hosts for the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Curatorial director Mick Buck says the new exhibit space "stresses the importance of connections between country's past and its heritage to today's artists and stars." For example, one of the new exhibits draws lines from Buck Owens to Brad Paisley and Merle Haggard to Miranda Lambert.

As visitors explore the space, they can create a digital profile and earn badges for making their own recordings, or dreaming up their own song lyrics, while also looking at original song lyrics and other archive material. Fans can belt out a cover version of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" inside a full-scale 75-foot replica of Taylor Swift's tour bus or climb through a 52-foot replica of an acoustic guitar while learning about the different parts of the instrument.

"I think we have broadened our demographic over the last few years," Tate said. "Very consciously we have been collecting in the contemporary realm as well as we continue to collect and honor the titans and the vintage folks and the hall of famers. But now we are really looking at future hall of famers as well."

The added exhibit space also gives them more flexibility in bringing in temporary exhibits alongside their permanent collections.

"We wanted some space to be able to take advantage of opportunities that fall into our lap, because a lot of times real estate is booked two and three years out," Tate said.

New parts of the building have already opened, including the CMA Theater and Event Hall for hosting private events and performances, as well as the adjoining Omni Hotel and restaurants all under the same roof.

Hatch Show Print, known for its letterpress posters advertising the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, has already seen a bump in visitors and sales since moving to the building last year, where museum visitors can watch giant printers churn out the handmade posters one by one. More than a half million visitors come to the museum annually, with steady increases in attendance each year.

Hall of Fame artist Vince Gill will be on hand Tuesday to unveil the new exhibits, along with Ricky Skaggs, Lee Ann Womack and Buddy Miller.

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On the Web:

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: http://countrymusichalloffame.org

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