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Rock Hall still rocking quietly

The 10th anniversary of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a poor show with minimal attendance.

music Updated: Sep 26, 2005 19:57 IST

Some aging rockers,yes, the Rolling Stones are on another tour,just keep on rockin'. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, 10 years old this month, still rocks, too, but in a much quieter way.

The Rock Hall, trying to cope with a pattern of declining attendance, is low-key while marking its anniversary this month, in sharp contrast to its bold opening in 1995. And in typical fashion, it's quietly expanding.

"We looked at what was appropriate," said Terry Stewart, the hall's chief executive officer. "We stepped back. Anniversaries are never like openings, and that was the most special event, a one-of-a-kind event."

Thousands of people flocked to Cleveland 10 years ago for the opening. Yoko Ono, Little Richard and Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner cut a ceremonial ribbon on Sept. 1, 1995, outside of the Rock Hall. A benefit concert at the old Cleveland Stadium featured an array of artists that included Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry.

There was no special event on the actual anniversary date. But a museum exhibit about the Rock Hall's 10 years is being prepared to open Sept. 24.

Stewart said he is working on establishing the first endowment for the nonprofit, self-sufficient institution with 86 full-time employees and revenue last year of $15.1 million (euro12.4 million), and he is reshaping its board to add benefactors from across the nation instead of just from Cleveland, as it used to be. In the past three years, members have been added from Miami, Boston, Nashville, Tennessee, Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Phoenix.

"And I'm looking for more in other cities," Stewart said, adding that the goal is to expand fund-raising.

Stewart is working on plans to put traveling exhibits in satellite halls in some cities, starting with Memphis, Tennessee, and Phoenix.

Another top priority is a planned $10 million (euro8.2 million) library and archive of rock music history in a new building at a Cleveland-area community college. Half the money is promised from the New York-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, the Rock Hall's parent organization, which produces an annual induction ceremony usually held in New York.

Stewart constantly hears from Rock Hall fans and critics who want the inductions in Cleveland, where they have been only once. Stewart said the inductions are the foundation's revenue source, and that the Cleveland museum lacks the time or money to take those over. It has other issues to worry about, such as drawing its own crowd. Last year proved to be the Rock Hall's weakest for attendance, 413,000, down about 13 percent from the 476,000 total in 2003, which was the first year it drew less than 500,000. The totals are down substantially from the 873,000 who came the first full year in 1996. "We're always concerned with the number of visitors and we want repeat visitors. We want to make sure exhibits are fresh and collections are growing," said Suzan Evans, director of the Rock Hall Foundation.

A salute to the music of Sam Cooke is being planned for the fall, and an exhibit dedicated to Bob Dylan is on tap for the spring. The museum's future "is very secure. At the same time, I would never want to be too relaxed," said Evans, whose board is separate from the Cleveland museum's board. Both work together. Civic planners in Cleveland had hoped the Rock Hall would spark vitality in a city that needed it.

First Published: Sep 26, 2005 19:57 IST