Rock Hall Celebrating 25 Years In Cleveland In 2020

Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris strums a well-worn guitar in his office. A quiet moment in advance of a busy year.
Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris spends a quiet moment in his office with a busy year ahead [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

It's the start of a yearlong celebration for the Cleveland museum. That will include the induction ceremony at Public Auditorium this May (inductees are to be annouced later this month) and the 25th anniversary of the iconic structure on the lake in September.

CEO Greg Harris recently gave a tour of the facility to show how the Rock Hall is adapting to changing times.

“Everything you see below, frankly, is new in the last couple of years,” he said, riding the escalator up into the I.M. Pei-designed glass pyramid that encloses the lobby.

The museum on the banks of Lake Erie is a lot livelier than it was 25 years ago. There's more color, more music and more graphics on the walls. Settling down in his office, Harris reflected on how popular music has changed since 1995.

“The massive sea change is how we access music,” he said. “Now, we're all getting it from Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud. Twenty-five years ago, a lot of us were all listening to the same radio stations. So you were getting this mass culture that was shared with everybody. You were still going to record stores. These ways that you acquired stuff wasn't as narrowcast.”

Many of today’s Rock Hall customers walk in the front door with a very different musical background, he added. There isn’t a shared knowledge of groups like the Beatles, the Supremes and the Rolling Stones. That has affected the way the exhibits are designed. For instance, there’s already an exhibit on pop phenomenon Billie Eilish, examining her influences.

“We do that with every artist we put up there,” Harris said. “So when you have a Bruno Mars in the Contemporary Artist Gallery, we talk about how he likes Michael Jackson, Jackie Wilson and James Brown, and how that influenced him. People that like those artists can get a better understanding of who he is.”

The hall of fame induction ceremonies, which spend alternate years in Cleveland and New York, are back in town this year on May 2.

“We're going to do a whole week of events leading up to it,” Harris said. “We'll have celebration days at the museum with live music. We'll be programing stuff all over town at different clubs and bars in places with live music.”

Looking ahead longer term, there are plans for expansion of the E. 9th Street facility.

“We want to expand and build more of a presence on the lakefront here in Cleveland,” he said. “We want to connect to the Great Lakes Science Center and have a museum campus down here. Our soft goal is to be starting construction in 2021 after the NFL draft leaves Cleveland.”

Harris is encouraged by recent development near the Rock Hall, including a new restaurant. He acknowledged that after 25 years, pedestrian access to the museum can be a challenge.

“Somehow, 600,000 people found a way to do it last year, but we think there can be much better connectivity,” he said. “Love some of the plans I've seen to expand from the malls and the convention center all the way down to the lakefront and really become connected to the city in a way that just can't happen with these railroad tracks here right now.”

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