The institution, which has been closed for several years, will reopen in phases throughout 2023

The US National Music Museum (NMM) is reopening its doors in 2023 after several years of renovation and expansion. A special exhibition called ‘As Good as Gold: The First 50 Years (1973–2023)’ opened on 19 January to mark 50 years since the museum’s creation.

Located on the campus of the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion, SD, US, the NMM is staging its full reopening in two phases, with the first planned for late summer 2023. In this phase, all first-floor galleries in the original Carnegie building will be reopened.

Regarding the opening of the Jason and Betsy Groves Special Exhibition Gallery, NMM curator Ana Silva said: ‘The NMM is very fortunate to have this special gallery now, where we can share a bit of our collections while we diligently work on the permanent exhibits and get closer to a full reopening.’ The ‘As Good as Gold’ exhibition explores the function of collecting in museums with a particular emphasis on how the NMM collection originated and evolved, including some of the instruments that shaped it over its first 50 years. Among the items on display are the Amati ‘King’ cello, the 1693 ‘Harrison’ Stradivari violin, a guitar and mandolin both by Antonio Stradivari, and a c.1538 cittern from Urbino.

‘Rather than a history of the museum, we wanted the exhibit to be a snapshot of the NMM collections over the last 50 years,’ said Silva. ‘Collecting is a natural drive for human beings, so approaching the exhibit through the NMM collections created an opportunity for visitors to connect with the NMM and question themselves on the importance of museum collections.’ The new exhibition will run until October 2023.

The exhibition is divided into five ‘timeline’ themes highlighting a particular period in the history of the collections. ‘Filling the Gaps’ describes the period of collecting that happened after the donation of the founding collection in 1979, in which there was an intention to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the European collection, particularly in the areas of 16th- to early 19th-century instruments. ‘Once in a Lifetime’ is the phrase used when the famed Witten Collection of early Italian stringed instruments became available in 1984. Today known as the Witten-Rawlins Collection, the selection of instruments exhibited in this group includes the ‘King’ cello, the ‘Harrison’ Stradivari violin and the Stradivari guitar. ‘Crescendo’ represents the period of growth of the NMM collections between the 1980s and 2000s. ‘Utley and Bates’ represents the two major collections that the NMM acquired at the turn of the century: the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection of Brass Instruments (1999) and the Alan G. Bates Harmonica Collection (2000), which together comprise more than 3,000 instruments. Finally, ‘Fine Tuning’ represents the philosophy of sustainable collecting that the NMM adopted in the new century. The exhibits include one of the last well-documented Amati violins and a 16th-century English viola da gamba.

The NMM holds one of the world’s finest collections of musical instruments, comprising about 15,000 instruments, with more than 700 on display at any one time.