EMP Museum

Photo by: Cacophony, CC

The EMP Museum is a museum of popular culture in Seattle, Washington. Its name originally stood for Experience Music Project, but the shorter title is now used officially. The museum was opened in 2000 as the brainchild of Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft. It is known for its support for public arts programs, in particular the annual “Sound Off!” event in which youth bands battle against one another. EMP is also the home of a festival for short films in the science fiction genre; this is held in conjunction with the Seattle International Film Festival.

Museum Components

The main EMP building has over 140,000 square feet of floor space. It was designed by the renowned architect, Frank O. Gehry, and is used to house several large galleries. Exhibits cover the full range of pop cultural subjects, with displays concentrating on horror, fantasy and science fiction. A number of art forms are exhibited, including stage and screen costumes, literature in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and even a range of video games. There are also several interactive exhibits. The building includes one of the largest interior LED displays in the world.

Two of Seattle’s most famous musical exports, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, are particularly important to EMP. In both their cases, the museum holds the most extensive collections anywhere of lyrics, artifacts, photographs and instruments relating to the artists. The museum also provides a wide range of educational resources, including a number of outreach programs as well as multiple workshops that take place on site. Each year, a contest is held for school children to write a short story based around fantasy or science fiction. There are also programs such as the Youth Advisory Board and Pop Conference, aimed at keeping EMP in touch with the wider community.

Science Fiction Museum

In June 2004, EMP opened its Science Fiction Museum, along with an associated Hall of Fame. This brought the existing Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame under the EMP banner. The new museum had a range of galleries, each of which concentrated on a particular aspect of science fiction, such as aliens or space flight. Memorabilia from a number of sources, including science fiction movies and authors’ personal collections, was also installed. The museum was overseen by an advisory board which included a number of prominent figures in the field, including Ray Bradbury and Steven Spielberg. In 2011, the museum lost its status as a permanent collection within EMP, but the following year it was replaced by a new Icons of Science Fiction exhibit.

EMP’s architectural design has proved somewhat controversial. At first, the design was said to resemble a broken electric guitar, something seen by some as a tribute to Hendrix. Gehry partially confirmed this analysis when he stated that he and his architectural team had examined a number of Fender Stratocasters and used their shapes as inspiration. However, public opinion in Seattle was generally negative, with many suggesting that the architect had not produced work of the standard of which he was capable. EMP was once described by Forbes as being among the ten least attractive buildings in the world. Even so, others have praised the design for being appropriate for a museum dedicated the “rock experience” in America.

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