At the cutting-edge of museum practices

MOMENT NYC (Museum of Music & Entertainment in New York/ stands out as a project that aims to endow New York City with a museum to safeguard, celebrate and cherish its popular music. Founded in 2014 by Genji Siraisi – a native New Yorker, professional musician, composer, and music producer -, the institution has been awarded a provisional museum charter from the New York State Board of Regents and 501c3 non-profit status and is currently concentrating its efforts on advancing the museum’s structure and establishing a physical site. At the same time, its team of scholars has been applying to research councils and other funding bodies (NEH, National Endowment for the Humanities, and New York Council for the Humanities) to support ethnographic research on New York’s popular music and thereby build up its exhibitive narrative. The museum is also highly committed towards community building not only to create awareness of its initiative but also and especially to reach out and begin building an archive of collective experiences and memorabilia able to ensure detail and context to the larger exhibitive narrative. Its educational program is already on the move and represents a distinctive feature of the museum’s already ongoing activities. Performative sessions conducted by highly seasoned professional are held at public schools and designed to enable students to delve deeper into their thinking about music in general, music in their lives, and the very meaning of music both to humans and to New York City. By visiting its site, anyone can get involved with supporting, sponsoring and/or funding MOMENT NYC.

As regards the MOMENT NYC vision on museum practices, I believe they render this institution distinctive in many different ways. To start with, there is a fresh understanding of the job of safeguarding with the museum engaging in not only conventional practices of collecting knowledge and artifacts about NYC’s popular music but also that of facilitating the sustainability and the renewal of community music practices and their singular dynamics and vibrancy. In other words, not only does the museum seek to draw museumgoers into the issue of the widespread decline and loss of popular music heritage regarding NYC practices – and thus signalling the external pressures driven by the political powers and social imbalances contributing to this downturn – as the museum is also striving to practice more active safeguarding activities grounded on a constant balancing between preserving and breaking traditions as well as mixing and merging them through delivering performances and artist residencies.

MOMENT NYC also stands out for its perception of community museum relationships as a primary responsibility for a museum serving New York’s different communities. Relevant scholars have furthermore been demonstrating that music is an ‘[…] enduring process by and through which people interact within and across cultures'[1]. Drawing on this notion, the museum is seeking to encourage understandings beyond and among specific groups by deploying music as a means of expressing national and ethnic identities and multicultural diversity. In a period when processes of diversity and community are being revived by globalization everywhere, I believe this purpose proves of the greatest significance not only to New Yorkers but also to all potential museumgoers.

MOMENT NYC also seeks to convey and deliver alternative popular music histories. Although popular music history has often been predicated upon deep-rooted distinctions between genres understood as stationary categories, recent research argues that different genres are usually not exclusively musically grounded but rather often develop in parallel and through intersecting means. New York clearly stands out as an essential place for rendering these dynamics traceable and even correctly worth mentioning as a laboratory where we can observe the cross-polinization of communities and musical ideas due to the population’s diversity and density[2]. In keeping with that set out above, MOMENT NYC positions itself to approach the theme of popular music by portraying the contradictions and discontinuities between and among genres, in other words, a practice where plurality and diversity is sorted, processed and recombined not only by the enormous variety of artist origins and backgrounds but also by the dynamics of the music industries, audiences, the media and alongside other ongoing technological developments.

As to the intended museum programming, this is to include onsite and online exhibitions, onsite and outreach education programs, performances, and artist residencies. MOMENT NYC also plans to contribute towards and to lead interdisciplinary research by establishing a research department facilitating international academic sessions not only through discussing the major theoretical issues and debates within the study of popular music but also envisioning new horizons for theorisation and practice[3]. This department shall also work both with experts throughout the Museum and with a wide range of external partners on research projects and publications, while maintaining an ongoing exchange program with universities and museums throughout the United States and Europe.

As the museum considers the abovementioned activities as one dimension to the overarching strategies required to mitigate the global threat to music as intangible cultural heritage, it will be devising the broad public dissemination of its outcomes among heritage scholars and music researchers but also among policy-makers and other cultural stakeholders.

In short, I believe the MOMENT NYC project brings together cutting-edge research about popular music generated through the fields of Ethnomusicology and Popular Music Studies alongside a stance on museum practices that reflects the current makeup of museum studies as an interdisciplinary endeavour regarding heritage. In this sense, I believe this corresponds to a coherent and valid project keen on moving, informing, and transforming, as we would wish for all museums in contemporary society.


[1] Stokes, Martin. 2004. ‘Music and the Global Order’. Annual Review of Anthropology, 33: 47-72, p. 47.

[2] Gershwin incorporating ‘jazz’, Ellington and James P. Johnson creating in erudite forms, Machito using big band orchestration, Dizzy Gillespie fusing Cuban music with Bebop, folk musicians influencing rock and rock influencing folk, and disco. Funk, Punk and Hip Hop sharing much more than what usually gets mentioned and so forth.

[3] The central role that museums now play in the identity of most cities has led to the expansion of museum practices specifically assigned to the theme of popular music and heritage as well as the staging of temporary exhibitions in other institutions. However, in-depth analysis of these developments published in scientific journals and books within the fields of Ethnomusicology, Popular Music Studies and Museum Studies has identified methodological and conceptual weaknesses in the current heritage practices which, correspondingly, argues for the need to rethink the boundaries of these heritagisation practices – ontologies of popular music, audiences and reception, genre, identities, politics, industry vs. oral tradition, and technologies and mediations – with a view to encountering the foundations for innovative approaches.

Posted in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s