Posted January, 2010
Terry Stewart, CEO,The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Courtesy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum.I’m of the humble opinion really screwed up when they made the movie, “Night At The Museum” back in 2006. They just plain got it all wrong. Instead of casting Ben Stiller in the starring role, they should have cast me. And, instead setting it in the Museum of Natural History, it should have taken place at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Stick with me here because there’s sound logic to my thinking.
See, through a lot of my life, I’ve had a fantasy of rummaging through the attics and warehouses of such stars as Elvis Presley, Gene Simmons, or name your favorite Rolling Stone. To be able and go through their items that are tied to major events in their lives would be both awe inspiring and surreal.
I’ve had the privilege of touring Graceland twice but, for some reason, the staff wouldn’t let me go up into the attic. For my diverse viewing pleasure, I’ve visited many of the Hard Rock Cafés in the U.S. and Bahamas and stared in wonder at the many artifacts and memorabilia that once belonged to some of my favorite rock stars.
Next on my Rock and Roll Bucket List is to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame located in the city of Rock’s birth, Cleveland, Ohio. It is there that one can see an endless array of guitars, clothing, cars, and a mind boggling collection of iconic memorabilia from the royalty of Rock and Roll.
If one loves Rock and Roll, then the Hall would be considered one of the holy shrines of the genre that must be visited and to which one pays homage. Not one to just want to merely put a check mark next to the Hall’s entry on my bucket list, I wanted to delve into the behind the scenes mechanizations of the Hall.
Why? Because not only am I a fan of classic rock music, I’m a business nerd and, while I will gaze in amazement at David Bowie’s red, thigh high platform boots, I will wonder what the arrangements were to get them there. I’ll ask myself questions like: What are the insurance arrangements to have this stuff in the Hall? How are the artifacts verified and certified? Boring stuff like that.
So that I can satisfy my geekiness ahead of time and enjoy my visit to the Hall when I do go there, I thought it might be a good idea to have a chat with the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Terry Stewart. I originally contacted Mr. Stewart for comment while writing the interview I conducted with Wild Cherry’s Rob Parissi. At that time, Terry was kind enough to commit to being interviewed at a later date so that I could pick his encyclopedic mind about the Hall.
When we recently chatted by phone, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess that I had it in my mind that I would have to deal with some stuffed shirt without a sense of humor. Was I ever wrong! It became immediately clear why Terry Stewart and Rob Parissi are friends. Stewart’s sense of humor and love for his work came through clearly during the small talk at the beginning of our conversation.
After chatting about his home state of Alabama, Rob Parissi and other items of mutual interest, I inquired about what a visitor to the Hall would see if they were to visit there today.
“Well, they’ll see our normal, permanent exhibits which are on seven floors and 150,000 square feet of space. These permanent exhibits are pretty much the history of rock and roll. And we have a number of special exhibits. We have the Motown 50ith Anniversary exhibit right now. We always have a photography special exhibit such as George Kalinsky, the photographer for the (Madison Square) Garden.
“And then we have the Woodstock 40th anniversary exhibit as well as a giant Bruce Springsteen exhibit. But, you know, the average stay is four to five hours so there’s more to see and do in a day if you really immerse yourself in it.”
I was curious if there were a lot of repeat visitors to the Rock Hall.
“Yeah, we have visitors that come a lot but about 90% of our attendance is outside the region. Those people are coming from 50 states and 100 countries. They aren’t really big, repeat people. It’s really a lot of first time visitors.”
While covering the subject of Hall visitors, the conversation migrated to the recent announcement that the Hall Annex in New York City was going to be closed. I asked him about all the talk of taking the Annex on the road as a travelling exhibit.
“Our partners are looking at ways that make sense financially to move it to another town or to take it on the road. That’s in their hands to come back to us with an opportunity that makes sense.”
Here’s hoping for a decision that places the Annex, or at ,least a tour stop, here in the Dallas area!
With responsibilities such as Stewart’s, I asked him if there was any Hall business that kept him awake at night.
“Well, surprisingly enough, no. We’re in the best shape, financially that we’ve been in ten years. We don’t have a big operating reserve that we should have. But we’re in better shape than we have been. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m staying awake at night. I’m always concerned since we really are based on how much money we generate each year. Every January 1st we start over again.”
The business geek comes roaring out of me when we start talking about the business end of the Hall. In addition to the revenue from admission fees, they also have a tremendous store, both physical and online, where one can pick up items such as mugs, clothing, books and pins.
As for those last two categories, I tried to appeal to Stewart’s generous side and tell him that I could go broke on my low budget (queue up the violins!) buying the great books and pins offered by the store.
His response? “Feel free too!”
Putting my business geek propeller hat back on, I asked Terry about how else the Hall is supported.
“Well, we also have our philanthropy. We have about 75% 78% of our business earned through the door and the store. Then the other 25% is membership, individual donations, corporate donations, grant foundations, and government funding. So it’s a wide mix of money that makes up the rest of that mix.”
Knowing that many of Boomerocity’s global readers and their companies might be interested in helping the Hall with a contribution, I asked Mr. Stewart how they might donate. He doesn’t hesitate even one nanosecond to answer.
“They can do it online or they can do it in person. There are MANY ways we can take your money! We’ve got levels all the way up to Platinum, Chairman’s Club and all of that. Membership runs up to $500 and after that you’re in the Donor’s Circle as far as different designations go.
“We don’t have a lot of programs or shows but we do the American Music Masters in the fall, which is a big deal. We have our induction ceremonies (to be held March 15th at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City) and our gala in May. There are a lot of events here where you can separate yourself from your dollars and do some good with it.”
Ah! He brought up the induction ceremony! Probably the only real criticism that I’ve ever heard with regards to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is every year when the inductees are announced. This year was no exception. While some of the names left me scratching my head, I keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. However, I did want to know how he handled the question that had to be thrown at him at least a couple of million times.
“Well, it has to be a standard response because I get asked so often. The fact is that we have a very disciplined, methodical process that we go through to induct performers. There are 35 members on the nominating committee and 600 who vote. And the realities are when somebody doesn’t get in, they simply didn’t get enough votes. That never satisfies anybody but that is the case.
“When you don’t have the support on the committee, you won’t get on the ballot. If you get on the ballot, you have to get the votes from the 600. BUT, the three other categories, non-performer, early influence and side men, are all done by committee. I tell people that I think that the people that are worthy will get in. They may not necessarily get in when they want to or when their fans want them to get in. As soon as they get passed over for a year or two, people go, ‘Oh, my god . . .’”
Many huge names in the rock world have visited the Hall of Fame. What have their reactions been?
“Oh! The ones who come here love it! There’s no issue about that. They all love it. They love music. They love the history of this music. When they come here and see how we treat it, they’re incredibly endorsing. I don’t know that we ever had anybody here that didn’t think it was fabulous or inductees that came through. I’m sure that there are some nit picks, nits and picks that they would like to change but then who wouldn’t?”
What is planned for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the near and long term?
Well, we just moved in to our new library and archive building. We won’t open it until next fall. So a lot of my focus right now is on finishing the capital campaign to pay for the library and to pay for the redesign of the museum because they’re redesigning about 30% - 40% of it. That’ll take place over the next two years.
“The library is up, staffed are moved in but it won’t be open to the public until next fall and to have enough material to open it up so that people can enjoy it. There’ll be digital audio and video as well as hard copies of magazines, periodicals and books in the lending library.
On the short term, those are the two things that I’m going to focus on.”
How about three to five years out?
Well, we’re trying to find a way to finance a connector between us and the Science Museum which is next door. They have a garage that’s highly unutilized and we have no garage. So, if we can connect and keep it enclosed to get to the garage, we think that it will be very helpful to them and very satisfying to us. That’s probably our biggest project.
After that, there may be space behind it in the hill to build enough flexible space to take care of the space that the Science Center and I need. We need a temporary exhibit hall and we also need some classrooms. They need classrooms, too, so maybe we can use the same classrooms.”
Is it just me or are you guys also struck by how ironic it is that rock and roll and science are looking at how they can be partners in education? Who would have ever thunk it?
I’ll close this piece with a plea and a bit of advice to the legions of Boomerocity readers that are around this fertile green planet of ours:
First, if you or your business is looking for a good cause in the area of cultural preservation to support, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be at the top of your list. As Mr. Stewart told us, you can support the Hall without ever having to show up (but you’ll definitely want to visit!). If you’re feeling generous and want to make an online donation, you can click here to make it happen. Or, if you want something besides a warm fuzzy feeling about your contribution, you can purchase your choice of some great items from the Hall’s online store here.
Secondly, don’t assume that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame road show will, a) happen and, b) or, if it does, that it will come to a city, town or village near year. Book a flight and hotel reservations to, and in , the great city of Cleveland, Ohio, and plan on spending a day – no, make that two days – at the incredible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tell ‘em, that Boomerocity sent you.
And, while you’re at it, buy a poor guy a book or pin from there, will ya?