Postcards: Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix)

By Richard White, May 6, 2014

I had no idea the world’s largest museum of musical instruments (15,000 instruments from over 200 countries) was located in Phoenix when we arrived there.  It was only by chance that I found a mention of it while surfing the net.  It looked interesting so I took a chance and after a "too short" visit I can safely say it is very impressive. 

What is just as impressive though is that Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and Chairman of Target Corporation, was able to accomplish the feat of building this world-class museum in just five years from its inception. 

The story goes (according to one of the museum’s gallery educators) that Ulrich was in Europe in 2005 looking to purchase some major artworks when he got the idea to create a major new museum focusing on musical instruments.  Using his Target store opening experience, he set a very ambitious goal of having the museum open in five years.  This is unheard of in museum circles where even planning and fundraising for a museum expansion or renovation can take decades, let alone one that had no land, no collection and no staff.

Ulrich immediately hired Rich Varda (who oversees Target’s team of store designers) as the main architect to create the building and exhibition displays.  He also hired Bille R. DeWalt, a cultural anthropologist (University of Pittsburgh) as the founding president and director to guide the development. 

True to his word, the Musical Instrument Museum opened five years later, in April 2010. The $250 million dollar museum has five huge galleries devoted to Africa and Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and the United States and Canada. There are almost 300 vignettes, each with historical instruments from the country, related artifacts and a short video about the people and the instruments.

With the videos using the latest Wi-Fi technology, you don’t have to press any buttons. As soon as you get near the videos, the headphones you are provided with pick up the sound and all you need to do is listen. The museum also has a theatre for concerts, a conservation lab and an “experience gallery” where visitors can play the instruments.  You could easily spend all day there. They even have a two-day pass to allow you to come back if you haven’t given yourself enough time to digest everything in one day.

My only complaint is the museum is located at the edge of the city, making it accessible only by car. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t designed as an anchor for a new urban village or perhaps closer to some of the other Phoenix museums to create a museum district.

The guitar exhibition in the lobby.

Lyre guitar, France, c. 1815. I loved the mask, folk-art quality of this guitar

Harp guitar, Germany, 1994 (replica of 1920 harp-guitar by W.J.Dyer % Bros.)

The integration of the local costumes relating to the music and culture was impressive.

A framed collection of harmonicas.

The trumpet call harmonica was probably my favourite piece. 

The evolution of the bag pipes.

Binzasara (rattle), 20th century, wood and rope

One of the five exhibition gallery spaces each the size of a Target store.

Look from the second floor galleries to the lobby below.

Footnotes:

The Musical Instrument Museum is impressive not only as a music museum, but also as an art museum and a cultural history museum.  It is definitely a must see if you are in Phoenix.  

When you think of Phoenix you don't think of it as a cultural mecca.  However after spending six days in the Phoenix and area my image of the city changed significantly because of the impressive museums we visited. And we only visited a few.

Here is quick list Phoenix museums: 

  • Phoenix Museums
  • Phoenix Art Museum
  • The Heard Museum
  • Arizona State University Art Museum
  • Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology
  • Arizona Science Centre
  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture)
  • Desert Botanical Garden  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West: A Phoenix Must See

Desert Botanical Garden: Right Place, Right Time

Melrose: Phoenix's emerging vintage district?

 

The importance of entrepreneurship in city building!

By Richard White, May 12, 2014 (an edited version of the blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on May11, 2014, titled "Civic innovation a breath of fresh air)

Recently, a 6-week, 8,907 km road trip took me to many cities (big and small) including Salt Lake City, St. George, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Colorado Springs, Denver, Billings, Bozeman and Helena.  Most of the time was spent flaneuring downtown streets, plazas, parks and alleys looking for new ideas on urban living.  Three projects stand out for their entrepreneurship and relevance to Calgary’s contemporary urban culture.

Container Park, Las Vegas

What would you do if you had a spare $350 million? In 2008, after selling Zappos, an online shoe and clothing site, to Amazon for $1.2 billion, Tony Hsieh (Zappos’ CEO) decided to undertake his own urban renewal project. He bought up land in Las Vegas’ east end and created Container Park.

Container Park is perhaps the most exciting and unique urban development project I have ever seen.  Though currently it is one entire block (at the east end of Freemont Street), there is lots of room to expand.  Using 40+ old shipping containers, some stacked on top of one another, Hsieh effectively transformed the once - empty block into an attractive, animated urban village.

Half of the block is a vibrant entertainment center with boutiques, restaurants, lounges, a huge children playground with its three-story tree house (young adults also love the playground at night). There is also an outdoor concert venue for the likes of Sheryl Crow (who we missed by a few days) and indie bands. 

Container Park, in sharp contrast to the adjacent Old Vegas’ Freemont Experience and the Strip is focused on being an incubator for small-scale start-ups in the fashion, art, food and music industries rather than mega international players. To date, over 50 small businesses have joined the party so to speak.

The other half of the block is a quiet learning campus with several containers positioned to create a campus (kind of like the old portable classrooms of the ‘60s). Here, the Container Park community, as well as others meet and share ideas to help germinate new ideas or expand existing ones.

Hsieh’s vision is to “create the shipping container capital of the world, while at the same time becoming the most community-focused large city in the world.”  Judging by the number of people hanging out when we visited (both day and night), he is well on his way in turning his vision into reality.

It is amazing what Hsieh has been able to accomplish in a few years, given the decades it has taken Calgary to get the East Village revitalization off the ground. Container Park opened in the Fall 2013 and is currently the toast of the town. However, the real test of success is best determined in 5 or 10 years when the “lust of the new” has worn off.

Container Park by day is full of families and hipsters.  It is a happy place!

At night Container Park the children are gone, but the fun continues.

Adults using the children's playground. at night.

Ivywild School, Colorado Springs

Another example of good old American entrepreneurial spirit is evident at the Ivywild School in Colorado Springs (COS), Colorado. Two years after this 1916 yellow brick, elementary school closed in 2009, two neighbouring businessmen - Joe Coleman (Blue Star restaurant) and Mike Bristol (Bristol Brewing Co.) negotiated the purchase of the school and converted it into a mixed-use community hub.

In the spring of 2013, the “school” reopened as a bakery, cocktail lounge, coffee house, charcuterie, bike shop, art school and of course brew pub.  In addition, it hosts numerous events and a farmers’ market.  We visited twice and it is clear that it has definitely become a hub for hipsters.  I understand the funding for the renovations was totally the responsibility of the individual tenants.  The washrooms and hallways have been left untouched, so there is still an elementary school atmosphere about the space. We loved the children’s murals on the walls and the old water fountains.

Its positive impact on the inner city community of Ivywild is already being felt.  Millibo Art Theatre has bought and renovated an old church across the street, converting it into a performance space and theatre school. We attended their Six Women Play Festival, which proved to be both entertaining and thought provoking for the full house audience.

I couldn’t help but compare this renovation to Calgary’s King Edward School repurposing project, the latter which has taken many, many years and $31 million dollars of public funding to make happen.  Ah, the power of private funding! I also couldn’t help but think maybe a brew pub would make a great addition to the King Edward School.

Yet, perhaps a better comparison would be with the Simmons building in East Village with its similar indie foodie focus.  It will be interesting to see how it is received when it finally opens in the spring of 2015.

The Boys washroom still has all the charm of elementary school. 

It wouldn't be a hipster hang-out without a bike shop.

The thought behind the Iveywild School project.

 Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix

I had no idea that the world’s largest museum of musical instruments (15,000 instruments from over 200 countries) was located in Phoenix.  What is most impressive though is that Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and Chairman of Target Corporation, was able to accomplish the feat of building this world-class museum in just five years from its inception. 

The story goes (according to one of the museum’s gallery educators) that Ulrich was in Europe looking to purchase some major artworks when he got the idea to create a major new museum focusing on musical instruments.  Using his Target store opening experience, he set a very ambitious goal of having the museum open in five years.  This is unheard of in museum circles where even planning and fundraising for a museum expansion or renovation can take decades, let alone one that had no land, no collection and no staff.

Ulrich immediately hired Rich Varda (who oversees Target’s team of store designers) as the main architect to create the building and exhibition displays.  He also hired Bille R. DeWalt, a cultural anthropologist (University of Pittsburgh) as the founding president and director to guide the development. 

True to his word, the museum did open five years later, in April 2010. The $250 million dollar museum has five huge galleries devoted to Africa and Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and the United States and Canada. There are almost 300 vignettes, each with historical instruments from the country, related artifacts and a short video about the people and the instruments.

With the videos using the latest Wi-Fi technology, you don’t have to press any buttons. As soon as you get near the videos, the headphones you are provided with pick up the sound and all you need to do is listen. The museum also has a theatre for concerts, a conservation lab and an “experience gallery” where visitors can play the instruments.  You could easily spend all day there. They even have a two-day pass to allow you to come back if you haven’t given yourself enough time to digest everything in one day.

My only complaint is the museum is located at the edge of the city, making it accessible only by car. It’s unfortunate it wasn’t designed as an anchor for a new urban village.

The five gallery space are like five Target stores!

Some of the instruments are very simple like this Grater.

The conservation lab.

Last Word

While Calgary takes pride in its ambitious, entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit, I can’t help but wonder why the Glenbow struggles to survive, why the National Music Centre still isn’t fully funded and why are we still talking about a contemporary public art gallery 50 years after the idea was first debated. Why do things take so long in Calgary?

If you like this blog, you might like:

King Edward Village?

Eau Claire Market Mega Makeover

Calgary's newest urban village

 

Desert Botanical Garden: Right Place, Right Time

Brenda White, April 3, 2014

It all started when I hopped off the Red Lion (Tempe's) shuttle bus at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) entrance at 9:15 am.  

Dollar off coupon in hand, I was expecting to get in for $19 and had my money ready.  Except, I was intercepted by a ticket scalper of sorts, who turned out to be a mid-50s, university women's group member who had an extra ticket as one member couldn't make it. She was willing to sell me the extra ticket for $12. I was a bit hesitant so I asked if I could go in with the group and pay her once inside - she agreed.  All went smoothly, so I paid her $12 and pocketed the other $7. Right place; right time. I was invited to join the group for their tour, but chose to say "goodbye" to my new university friends and went off on my merry way. 

It was quiet even though the garden opened at 8 am and I was quickly (and nicely) intercepted by a DBG volunteer who graciously offered to advise me on how to best make use of my two hours (I had arranged for a shuttle to pick-up at 11:30). She told me what loops to take and to make sure I went to all of the sculpture icons on the map as they indicated the location of the Chihuly glass sculptures. Again, right place; right time.

Dale Chihuly is one of the world's best known glass artists. He has one permanent artwork in the garden from his previous exhibition at DBG but I was fortunate to arrive while his second exhibition of 20 new works was on (it closes May 18, 2014).  Chihuly's large scale, neon-like abstract sculptures are definitely inspired by the colour and shape of the many different cacti and wild flowers in the gardens.  The synergy between art and nature was amazing. Once again, I was in the right place, at the right time. 

For one who has suffered from a lifelong case of being navigationally challenged, I impressed myself with not getting lost amongst the many loops and trails in the 140-acre garden site, luckily only 55-acres are in use for the trails. The reason - great signage and an insider tip from a stranger to always look for the paved path.  She said, "the paved path is the main one, so always default to if you lose your way."  The gravel paths are not long and are circular so just keep going and you "hit" pavement again. For a fourth time, right place; right time. 

I was also told by another local that early April is probably the best time to come as many of the wild flowers and cacti are in bloom.  Early morning is also the best time to visit, as it is cooler, less windy and fewer people. I also lucked out that the weather the day I chose was warm and sunny with almost no wind (that is not always the case I was told). Right place; right time.

I felt a little silly taking 150+ photos but it just seemed everywhere I turned, I was in the right place at the right time to capture the interplay of the intense colour, the early morning light, and shadows that make the garden so special.  I have never taken 150 pictures in one month let alone one day in my life.  

Here are a few of my favourite photos.  Now I will focus my attention on finding a funky $7 Spring Break 2014 road trip souvenir - hopefully I can be in the right place, at the right time again.    

desert red flower.jpg

Chihuly: Abstracting from nature

desert yellow flower close up.jpg

Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy.

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

I love to use Google maps to check out what is close by to wherever we are staying.  A few nights ago when searching, I am sure I saw a Nordstrom Rack near Fashion Square in Scottsdale.  So when we found ourselves near the Square, we thought we'd check it out. 

We found the Nordstrom department store first, so went in to ask if there was a Nordstrom Rack nearby.  You'd think we had slapped them in the face based on the dirty look we got. In a huff, the staff person dialed a number, asked someone to give us directions and abruptly and curtly handed the phone to Brenda.  We found we were way off base and that it was 50 blocks to the east. Given it was 7 pm, we decided that destination would have to wait for another day.

Once home, I Googled Nordstrom Rack and up came Nordstrom's Last Chance page.  Though we had never heard of this concept, the same address as we had been told earlier so we thought this must be it.  The Last Chance concept is contrary to Nordstrom high-end full-service image in that all sales are final and "as is."  The product is out-of-season or returns that they would not resell in Nordstrom Rack or their department stores.  The concept intrigued us. 

After a hearty Red Lion (Tempe) breakfast, we decided to check out Nordstrom Last Chance and see what we could find along the way i.e. car flaneuring.  As we drove along Camelback Road, we continued to be amazed at the endless small office buildings that seem to populate all of the major roads in metro Phoenix.  

As we got close to where we thought Last Chance would be, we spotted a Nordstrom Rack so quickly parked and headed in.  As the store different look any different than other Nordstrom Racks and there were big signs telling you that you can return any purchases we knew we didn't have the right place.  Turns out the Nordstrom Last Chance was on the next block in another mall. We quickly hightailed over there.   

Feeding Frenzy

We quickly found the Last Chance and what could only be described as a shopping feeding frenzy.  In a space about the size of the Women's and Men's clothing and shoe sections of a TJ Maxx or a Winners, bargain hunters were grabbing at everything in sight. There were line ups at the fitting rooms and the cash registers. It was chaos, diametrically opposed to the Nordstrom department store the night before where you could hear a pin drop. 

There were no neat and tidy displays; shoes and clothing were toss all over the place like a sterotypical teenager's bedroom. People were trying clothes on in the aisle and sitting on the floor to try on shoes.  

As all sales are final, check carefully as there are stains and/or rips are common. Some items have evidence of wear thanks to Nordstrom's liberal return policy. However, for the savvy, shopper good deals are to be had.  I came away with a pair of ECCO golf shoes, slightly worn, for $20 that retail for $200.  Brenda snagged a pair of  Paul Green (German luxury footwear brand) leather shoes for $20, well below their $300 retail price.  She also got a BP(Nordstrom Store Brand) navy blue cardigan for $10.

Chatting with another shopper, Brenda learned she regularly travel all the way from New York as this is Nordstrom's ONLY Last Chance store (which I confirmed via twitter).  

When was the last time you were in a store and they closed an area for restocking in the middle of the day?  We were in the store for about an hour and during that time they closed the women's shoe area and later the men's clothing area. At first confused and frustrated, we soon realize that if you wait around for a bit you have first dibs on the new product; that's how Brenda got her shoes. 

The entrance to Last Chance seems innocent enough.  Note: there is no reference to being affiliated with Nordstrom.

However, once inside you are immediately confronted with a frenzy of shoppers like those sifting through a huge bin of colourful women's underwear.

It is gridlock in the store as everyone has a cart and the aisles are narrow. 

In another corner, the yoga women can't wait for the dressing room so they are trying on clothes over their own clothes.  

Red trash barrels are strategically placed in the shoe department so staff can just throw in shoes for sorting and restocking later. 

What did we find along the way?

Given the Marshall's department store was next to Nordstrom Clearance we stopped in. And not only was it calm and quiet, but it had much better product and prices than we expected.  I was tempted to buy a pair of Merrell shoes for $30.

Then we checked out "My Sister's Closet" behind the Nordstrom Rack store and the Well Suited Men's Resale store where I found a pair of Puma golf shoes for $25. 

Across Camelback Road, there is a Half Price Books, Records and Magazine store that is worth a visit. 

Needing to be energized we stopped at Snooze, next to Nordstrom Rack. A very pleasant surprise - food, decor and ambience.  The 3-egg omelette with goat cheese, wild mushrooms and bacon was very tasty as was the apricot jelly-topped toast.  We also loved the mid-century, atomic-inspired design.   

Snooze restaurant offer funky booths, outdoor patio and bar seating. 

Last Word

If looking for a unique shopping adventure when in the Phoenix, we'd recommend forgetting the major malls and head to Camelback Road and 20th Avenue east.  There is almost something primordial in the the "thrill of the hunt" at Nordstrom Last Chance store. 

Though the Nordstrom Rack window promotes treasure hunting the real treasures lie a block away. 

Here are our treasures from Nordstrom Last Chance and Well Suited. Leo from Red Lion Hotel was impressed.