As museums around the world have scrambled to adjust to the new socially distanced normal, the Grammy Museum is leaning heavily on its greatest asset—musical performance. The nonprofit recently launched COLLECTION: live, a streaming service featuring artist interviews, performances and livestreams.
The Grammy Museum is dedicated to cultivating a greater understanding of the history and significance of music through exhibits, education, grants, preservation initiatives and public programming. The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live opened more than a decade ago, and the organization has locations in places like Newark, New Jersey and Mississippi.
Leveraging the license of the powerful Grammy name, the museum is able to draw in a range of artists, including Herb Alpert, Clive Davis and Barbra Streisand, putting on more than 1,000 programs to date. But, as with many museums and performance venues these days, in-person ticket sales have gone up in smoke. The museum ramped up its digital programming, and at $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year, the new streaming service features artists like Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, and film score composer Hans Zimmer discussing the making of original song “No Time To Die” for the new James Bond movie.
All of the Grammy Museum’s work is backed by membership and donors, and while $2.99 a month might not sound like much of a lifeline, the museum’s fundraising success is in large part reliant on starting small.
“Typically, a lot of our donors come from joining the museum as low-level members, where they get access to ticketed programs. But as they get to know us, these members move up the ladder to higher-level members, and then eventually donors and philanthropists,” explains Grammy Museum President Michael Sticka. “We draw in music lovers. And we also get people who are passionate about music education.”
Before coming to the Grammy Museum, Sticka worked at the Recording Academy, which presents the annual Grammy Awards. When the Grammy Foundation and the Grammy Museum merged a few years ago, Sticka signed on as executive director and has been president of the museum since 2019.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the museum has adjusted some of its work and deepened its digital footprint. But as Sticka tells it, the museum was already moving toward digitizing some of its resources and programming. COVID didn’t cause this move, but rather, accelerated it.
Last year, the museum secured about $350,000 in funding to create a digital museum. And only five days after closing in March, the museum quickly released a content schedule to show how they were going to continue to serve the public. Grammy Museum at Home provides an online hub with unreleased content from the museum’s archives, including lessons, virtual exhibits and interviews with musicians. The tagline of the section is “doors closed, mission open.” Sticka says online and digital engagement has increased significantly, with close to 1 million views in artist programming between March and mid-summer.
The museum recently made some changes to its brick-and-mortar location, as well. After raising about $5.5 million, 75% of the museum underwent renovation, including what Sticka says is the only Latin music gallery in Los Angeles, which opened in November 2019.
The Grammy Museum reshaped its governing body, too, including adding an independent chair and independent vice chair. Sticka explains that when the museum was founded, it was a partnership between AEG, which developed the likes of L.A. Live and the Staples Center, and the Recording Academy. But when the museum merged with the Grammy Foundation, its governance also had to be reshaped.
“We’re now trying to make our nonprofit a charity. Our brand is wonderful. But there’s this idea that we’re in Hollywood and incredibly wealthy. Really, we’re a foundation. We license the Grammy name. We are close partners of the Recording Academy, but separate,” Sticka explains.
Grammy Museum at Home is supported by the Hoesterey Family Charitable Foundation and Brian and Adria Sheth, an Austin-based billionaire couple we’ve covered previously. The Sheths are keen on environmental conservation and education, and their Sangreal Foundation helped fund an initiative called Saving the Planet Through Song, tapping music to teach youth about the importance of conservation.
Where many public schools are seeing music education disappear from their curricula, making sure all kids have access to music education seems to be particularly attractive to Grammy Museum donors.
“Everyone Loves Music”
Consider Grammy Museum board chair and donor Tim Bucher in the Bay Area. A longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Bucher once reported directly to Bill Gates and Michael Dell. One of his start-ups, ZING Systems, describes itself as the first company to stream music services like Pandora to mobile devices. Particularly interested in empowering artists, he was approached by the Recording Academy about 15 years ago to better connect the tech world to music. But when he found out about the charitable organizations associated with the Recording Academy—Grammy Museum and MusiCares, which provides health, financial, and rehabilitation resources to musicians—Bucher became more involved, and that involvement escalated over time. He joined the board in 2017 and was recently elected board chair in July.
As a donor and leader, Bucher supports the museum in multiple ways. He contributes cash donations and also uses his platform to help raise funds. His winery has raised over $1 million for the museum and he’s rented out the Grammy Museum for events.
When I asked Bucher where the Grammy Museum finds most of its donors, he was quick to point out that donors and sponsors come from all walks of life, including tech, consumer goods and travel companies. But the common thread tends to be a shared passion and love for music.
“This broad base of donors makes sense because music impacts so many people. Everyone loves music,” he explains. He contrasts the wide net the Grammy Museum is able to cast with the Computer Museum in his own backyard, which receives strong support from technologists, but doesn’t have the same universal appeal.
Looking forward, Bucher is excited about the museum’s continued work to keep music education alive, as well as preserve cultural tradition. He was also excited about COLLECTION: live, smartly noting that this extended period of isolation also has an impact on artists. Indeed, these virtual events help musicians stay connected to their fans. “Where is the home of music? My hope is that the Grammy Museum connotes an even deeper sense for the home of music. Every time artists approach us, or we approach artists, there’s a desire to keep this going,” he says.
A Tight-Knit Community of Members
Siblings Michael Neal and Ida Miller are Grammy Museum members who’ve supported the organization at increasing levels. Neal, a community development planner based in Los Angeles, has been involved with the Grammy Museum for about a decade. Miller is retired and lives about 35 miles from the museum in Orange County, sometimes visiting four or five times a week. In the year since she’s joined, Miller has already been to some 250 programs.
Illustrative of Sticka’s earlier point about steady backers starting out more modestly, Neal began as a basic member and upgraded over time. And like Bucher and the Sheths, Neal is also passionate about the music education work the museum does. “There are lots of programs they do that benefit the community and kids in an area. It’s an important buffer for music education being cut in schools,” he says.
A staunch Doors fan, Miller contributed some of her own collection to an exhibit called Strange Cosmic Experiences about The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
While the museum’s members and supporters tend to have a deep belief in its work, personal connections are also important. For both Neal and Miller, the Grammy Museum has been a great resource for connecting with other like-minded music fans, and both speak about the friendships they’ve formed.
“You find people with common interests. Pretty soon you’re Facebook friends and you meet for dinner. It’s expanded the field of music friends as I get older, since some of my friends don’t want to leave the house anymore,” Miller says.
As for Neal, he talks about how up-close and personal many of the Grammy Museum events are. “It’s a very intimate theater… such a unique experience. It really takes the artist out of their element, but in a comfortable way,” Neal explains, adding that programming usually begins with an interview talking about the artist’s album and an overview of their career. Then the artist gives a musical performance, which can last up to an hour. “It’s like seeing someone in their home,” he adds.
Both Grammy Museum brass and members seemed excited to return to the actual physical space of their beloved museum. But the museum’s push to leverage physical and digital resources began before this once-in-a-century pandemic, and will continue going forward.
“I can’t wait to reopen. We’re gonna come out of this stronger. We’ll have the physical museum and digital museum, and I hope that engagement continues nationwide,” Sticka says.